Down Under Blog: An eye for an eye

There’s SO much happening in the NRL right now that this particular blog could have taken many forms…

The Origin decider was a thriller, Tyrone Peachey looks like he’s basically not trying at the Titans, and Kallum Watkins was apparently signed by that club without the head coaches knowledge and against his wishes, so there’s that too. Of course there’s the frankly incredible news that we’ve resigned Mahe Fonua, and I’ll come to that in the coming weeks – although suffice to say its good news, and I’ve no idea how the hell we’ll play all of our talent in one team next year without playing people out of position.

On balance, the ONLY thing I could write in depth about this week is the George Burgess eye gouging incident. I watched the game live on telly, and it was a horrible thing to watch. You can always tell the severity of an incident initially by the reaction of the players on the opposing team, especially in our sport. In soccer the reaction to the merest touch would be tantamount to a life ban in rugby league.

Watching an experienced campaigner like Robbie Farah react the way that he did instantly told you that something serious had happened, by the time the TV replay came on, it was obvious that Burgess was in serious trouble. Obvious to everyone except Adam Gee and Gavin Badger who were reffing the game and merely put the incident on report. The Tigers players were incensed, Farah could barely see out of the eye in question, and George Burgess shook his head as if he’d been badly done by. The next time he got the ball Burgess was roundly booed, and it was with a sense of relief that he left the game injured shortly afterwards. There has been suggestions in the press over here that the Burgess injury was feigned to get him off the pitch as he was in no state mentally to continue. Of course the Tigers went on to win the game, and it could probably be argued that justice had been done.

The real justice was reserved for five days later when the disciplinary board sat in judgement on the case. After a couple of hours of argument and counter argument (about the length of the ban only – Burgess submitted a guilty plea), a ban of nine matches was handed down. George was accompanied by the club lawyer and also by Shane Richardson, who as we know is the master of spinning difficult situations into positive ones – I know many of you reading this would’ve signed the “fans pledge” after the 2000 Cup Semi final pitch invasion, Richo is an artist at media management. This time though, his attempts to spin this situation have backfired. He described it as a “tragedy” for Burgess and his family and reputation.

The Aussie press were very quick to point out that this is not George’s first gouging offence after he did it in the Denver test last year, and also pointed out that the Burgess family and Robbie Farah have a bit of a past after a high tackle from Sam left Robbie on the floor and Sam very audibly verbally abusing him in the same fixture last year. A nine game ban means that George is practically out until the finals, and there’s a real feeling that Bennett won’t pick him for the Bunnies again. I’d be surprised if another NRL club came in for him now, and the massive offer that the Eels had in front of him at the start of this season has long since been withdrawn. All this points to one of two options.

Either he retires or he finishes his career (or at least spends a season or two) in Super League. Question is who would take the chance on him? There’s quite obviously something not right between his ears, and there’s rumours that he has a hip injury that is severely hampering his movement too. His rap sheet makes for distressing reading too – smashing a car window with a street sign, nude photos leaking onto social media, throwing a water bottle at an opposing player as he was sitting on the subs bench. On the field he’s had bans for gouging, shoulder charges, high tackles, and has been dropped from the first team due to bad attitude more than once.

On the flip side, he’s huge, hits hard, is fast and has a step on him that most half backs would be proud of. Problem is that’s no good when he’s sitting in the stands for ten matches a year or languishing in the reserves for periods of his career.

Would we at Hull want him? We are obviously in the market for a second rower or three, with Mini, Hadley, Green and probably Sika going. We’ve all heard Ligi Sao and Manu Ma’u mentioned, and obviously George wouldn’t count on the overseas quota, and whoever gets him is likely to get him on the cheap as this incident has ensured his earnings potential is in the toilet.

We really need an enforcer, we’ve been missing that since Watts left. I’ve always been of the opinion that we need a player that’s going to make an opposing half back look for him and wonder when he’s going to get hit. That’s got to be LEGALLY hit though, and that’s where I’d say any team has to be wary of signing Burgess. For all of his bans, he’s not, in my opinion anyway, ever going to come into the category of an enforcer. Gouging isn’t the act of a hard man, it’s the act of a coward and there’s no place for it in our game, the fact he’s done it twice worries me. There’s an important difference between an enforcer and a thug.

For his sake though, I hope this ban is the wake up call he needs. For a parallel, James Graham was a different player when he came back after his biting ban. He still rips in, and he’s still aggressive, but that is now controlled aggression for the most part. If a good coach gets into George Burgess’ head, maybe he can rehabilitate his career and reputation. Is that coach Radders? He seems to have found the key to Albert’s psyche (one nugget fuelled night aside), so maybe we’d take the punt?

Until next time, Up the Cream, Gerremonsard and Come on you ‘Ull.

Rich – Twitter @pommyrich

This article first appeared in Up the Cream Issue 76. For our online shop, click here

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