What on earth does a rugby league player need to do these days to get sent off?
After the game between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Wests Tigers on Thursday night, I genuinely have no idea.
You all know the incident I’m referring to; in the seventh minute of that match, Robbie Farah makes a dash for the try line and is tackled. When the tackle was complete, you could see that Farah was clearly uncomfortable and visibly incensed. On closer look and with assistance from the video replay, you can clearly see George Burgess gouging at his eyes.
It was pretty despicable viewing and although we often hear the phrase ‘not a good look for the game’ thrown away; this genuinely was not a good look for the game.
After the game, Wayne Bennett suggested that Burgess may have been going for the forehead, which I find hard to believe. Bennett did acknowledge however that it didn’t look good.
Burgess will be punished. He could spend up to at least 12 weeks on the sideline, depending on how the judiciary view the incident. Additionally, Burgess is in the midst of contract negotiations. Despite his talent on the field, I wonder what impact this may have on the value of his next contract.
It’s not like this is the first time Burgess has been involved in such an incident. During his career, his rap sheet has included eye-gouging Dallin Watene-Zelezniak in an England Test where he got four weeks. He struck Mitch Barnett in 2017, threw a water bottle from the bench at an opponent in 2015, there was a chicken wing tackle on Steve Matai in 2014 and in that same year he also tripped Matt Moylan.
If a player is talented enough it doesn’t seem like too much focus is placed on their previous charges when trying to lure them to a club. There are some clubs reportedly interested including the Parramatta Eels and a couple of clubs in the Super League including Hull FC; will the amount of money they are looking to offer change because of his grubby behaviour on the field?
Aside from contract negotiations, my big question is, why was Burgess able to stay on the field? This to me was a clear scenario in which the referees could have made a decision to send a player off. This decision would have been justified in my view, given the conduct was not accidental.
The send-off is something we don’t see in rugby league very much anymore. In fact, it took me a while to remember the last time a player was sent off in a match (it was Curtis Scott for the Melbourne Storm in May last year after Scott lashed out a second time after being sent off in the first half for his role in a scuffle with Dylan Walker). Before that, the last send off was David Shillington in 2015 and even before that, sending a player off was pretty uncommon.
You can certainly understand a referee’s reluctance to send a player off for the remainder of a game; particularly if the game is in its early stages. It is a big decision and of course, has a significant impact on the club that is a player down. In the case of Burgess, in particular, it was so early in the game and Souths would have been significantly disadvantaged.
On the other hand; that disadvantage should not be the concern of the referee’s. For a player, if they do the crime, they should do the time and that time should discourage other players from doing the same thing.
Additionally, referees also need to know they have the backing of their bosses to make big decisions like that. Back in 2009, Phil Haines made the controversial decision to send a player off and was dropped from the NRL for his trouble.
In my view, for conduct that is clearly not accidental and falls into the category of foul play, the send-off should be used more frequently. Acts like eye-gouging and tripping certainly fall into that category and potentially even hair pulling (which is more relevant for the women’s game).
In the past we’ve seen players eye gouge and receive a fine or spend a couple of weeks on the sidelines.
It’s simply not enough. Discipline is key in rugby league and actions like eye-gouging have absolutely no place in our game.
There’s been discussion over this week about whether tackling should be allowed in the junior game given the recent reporting around the impact of hard tackles on the human brain. In my view though, it’s behaviour like eye-gouging which absolutely needs to be removed.
I hope Burgess spends a significant period of time on the sidelines but he also should have taken no further part in that game. I wonder if the ramifications had been more serious in the past whether Burgess would still be playing footy with a rap sheet longer than a grocery list.