South Sydney captain Sam Burgess is free to take on Melbourne in Sunday’s blockbuster in Gosford after escaping suspension at the NRL judiciary.
Burgess was facing the eighth ban of his Australian career after being charged with a grade two high tackle on Cronulla fullback Matt Moylan last Saturday night.
But the English international was instead fined $1900 after a three-man panel reduced his offence to a grade one misdemeanour after hearing more than an hour of legal debate on Tuesday night.
“We thought we had a case prior to coming here. That’s why we came and (we’re) thankful we got a fair hearing,” Burgess said.
“I think the evidence showed that. We’re looking for consistency and we got that and I’m looking forward to the weekend. It should be a great game up at the Central Coast.”
Burgess was just four minutes into his comeback from an eight-week layoff following shoulder surgery when he caught Moylan high at Shark Park.
Adamant the grade two charge was the right one, the NRL’s legal counsel Peter McGrath argued that Burgess’s tackle was “high degree” careless and with a “high level” of force.
McGrath claimed from the moment Burgess’s “swinging” arm collected Moylan, the Sharks fullback was “effectively a rag doll” in the tackle.
“He dropped the ball, his eyes closed. He lost all control,” McGrath said.
Burgess’s lawyer Nick Ghabar insisted the initial point of Burgess’s contact on Moylan was “at worst, the base of his neck”.
He also noted that Moylan passed a head injury assessment 10 minutes after the tackle and told the judiciary panel “there was no evidence of any injury” – despite Moylan on Tuesday being ruled out of Friday night’s clash with Penrith after suffering concussion symptoms.
Ghabar also presented footage from several other grade one high tackles that he deemed to be no less careless than the Souths captain’s.
Judiciary chairman Geoff Bellew instructed the panel of former players Mal Cochrane, Dallas Johnson and Tony Puletua to ignore comparable tackles if they felt previous judiciaries had erred.
Tellingly, though, two such tackles last year from Brisbane prop Matt Lodge and Sydney Roosters hardman Jared Waerea-Hargreaves both came across as much worse than Burgess’s.
“If you look at the incident tonight, I’m not intentionally trying to hurt anyone,” Burgess said.
“I don’t think I’m a dirty player.”