Canberra centre Joey Leilua said he felt like “I had a rock in my eye” when he was trying to dislodge a piece of material that had flown into his face as he ran out on to AAMI Park at the start of the qualifying final against Storm on Saturday night.
Several large sparkler-style fireworks were detonated to enhance the top-four showdown as part of the pre-game entertainment.
But due to the mishap, the NRL said they were unlikely to use the sparklers again during the current finals campaign and would start an investigation of the incident.
Both Raiders CEO Don Furner and head coach Ricky Stuart said they would not be lodging any protest over Leilua’s injury.
“You can’t help bad luck,” Stuart said. “From every semi-final I’ve seen the NRL put on they’ve done a wonderful job ... I wouldn’t be sitting here as a winning or losing coach blaming somebody for what is an accident.”
Leilua spoke to NRL.com in the AAMI Park dressing sheds post-match and said he did not fear for his vision at all – he was just becoming anxious that the injury might force him miss a finals game.
“At the time I was pretty emotional because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to play and I’d worked hard to get here. I wanted to do my best for the boys,” he said.
Raiders medical staff did a preliminary examination on the sideline, which held up the start of the match.
Leilua was trying to get on to the field to take his place at right centre but co-captain Josh Hodgson persuaded him to go up the players tunnel and have the eye washed out.
“It felt like a rock in my eye, because your eye is so delicate,” Leilua said. “I was thinking there had to be something in there.
“The staff kept saying ‘there’s nothing in there’ but then finally they saw it right up the top of the eye – a little piece of ash. He checked to make sure my eyeball wasn’t scratched.
“It still took a couple of attempts to get it out but then I was good to go.”
This was Leilua’s first game back since round 23, when he was handed a two-game suspension for putting his knees into the back of Manly winger Reuben Garrick.
Foti International, the company who was contracted to stage the pre-match show, said the sparkler is not a firework.
"In relation to the incident at AAMI Park, we would firstly like to say that the incident is regrettable," Foti said in a statement.
"We would also like to clarify that the cause of the incident was not a firework. The effect used is a spark-simulation machine, which are classified as non-pyrotechnic.
"It appears that some grit from these machines came in contact with the player’s eye. Foti International have been using these non-pyrotechnic machines on a regular basis for 12 months without incident.
"Foti International will carry out an internal investigation to properly assess the cause."