What happened this week could be a catalyst for change in the NRL.
I am not talking about the news around CTE findings in two former players’ brains, which deserves its own in-depth analysis.
I am referring to the George Burgess eye gouge on Robbie Farah in Thursday’s match.
It’s hard to rate how high up on the spectrum of dirty play eye-gouging rates, as the NRL is no stranger to dirty play. Finger up the bum, cannonball tackles, crusher tackles, king hits and the one act that is creeping back into the game with too much frequency, the deliberate late hit.
Of those mentioned, eye-gouging stands apart when it comes to the unanimous cringe it receives from stakeholders.
However, the NRL has been found wanting time and again in how it punishes the eye gouge, to the point that it has provided no deterrent to offenders like Burgess.
Past eye gouge punishments have included a five-match ban for Canberra’s Hudson Young in an incident in Round 12, a four-match ban for Burgess again in a Test match at the end of 2018, and two fines for Josh McGuire.
McGuire’s fines were justified in the first case by his first victim Cameron Munster declining to make an official complaint despite overwhelming video evidence, and the second incident was adjudicated to be a facial.
The inconsistencies are an issue in itself and should be corrected by the NRL.
The first step is to properly define an eye gouge in the first place, and that should be to outline the act as any contact with the eye. Facials that make incidental contact with the eye, too bad so sad – it’s an unnecessary part of the game.
The second step is the appropriate suspension. Phil Gould said in commentary referring to McGuire’s ‘facial’ on Dylan Walker: “If they’ve charged and found him guilty of eye-gouging, but fined? Please. Eight weeks.”
Gould is absolutely on the mark. Eight weeks minimum for any contact incidental or not with the eye.
Regardless of Munster’s refusal to complain officially, McGuire should have been given an eight-week holiday, and another eight weeks for the Walker incident. How else does the NRL expect the behaviour to be stamped out?
On Thursday, Burgess committed an act in plain sight of TV cameras. Evidence is not a problem in this case. This is Burgess’s second instance in as many years. It’s got to be a 12-week minimum sentence. It’s time the NRL drew a line in the sand and put in place the system to eradicate it from the game.
If a complaint is officially made by a player on the field or is suspected by the referee, the referee should refer it to the bunker for the correct adjudication. Allow play to continue, but if the bunker judges the incident to in fact be an eye gouge, stop play momentarily and issue the send-off, which Burgess should have received.
The NRL could use Thursday’s incident to send a message to players and clubs alike on how the game should be played.
Get rid of the eye gouge and the facial in one fell swoop.