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Alex McKinnon's former Dragons teammate David Gower says rugby league is still a safe sport despite watching the Knights second-rower break his neck against Melbourne last night. 

Newcastle sent out a statement on Tuesday morning saying that while McKinnon's spinal cord is not severed, his C4 and C5 vertebrae have been fractured. 

Doctors are still unsure whether the level of spinal cord being compromised and that it could take weeks to realise the extent of the damage. 

"It's scary, it's not a nice thing," Gower said on Tuesday. "It's an aspect of the game, we understand that when we take the field. But in saying that, no one intentionally goes out there to do it. It's just one of them really unfortunate awkward tackles that just went wrong."

Gower was part of the Wayne Bennett-coached Dragons side that McKinnon made his debut with back in 2011 and was shocked when he watched his ex-teammate stretchered off the field in a neck brace after a tackle by Storm players Jesse and Kenny Bromwich and Jordan McLean. 

Referee Gerard Sutton put the tackle on report, but Gower believes there was no malice in the tackle. 

"Obviously players don't try to do it, but it's a risk I suppose, every time you lace the boots on," he said. 

"But the boys, they haven't gone in there intentionally to tip him on his head or anything like that. It's just an unfortunate aspect of rugby league. 

"He's a good young player. He's had a good couple of years of first grade and he's only going to get better. Hopefully this doesn't derail him too badly. Hopefully he recovers quickly and he's back there playing again because no one likes to see that injury in footy."

Gower, who now plies his trade at Parramatta after a stint with Manly, said the NRL has done enough to ensure a safe environment for its players. 

"The rules are there, we all understand them. If it's a penalty it gets penalised and if it's worth going to the match review committee, it does and if it's illegal you get suspended," he said. 

"The processes are in place to make the game safe. I think it's a safe game. It's just unfortunate incidents happen every now and then when something goes slightly wrong."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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