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When Sam Burgess first came over to the NRL, this writer was excited for rugby league. I didn’t much care that he played for the Rabbitohs — well, I did a bit — but I was excited to see an athletic forward who could play anywhere in the pack, could step, had speed and great ball skills (no pun intended).
He had every opportunity to revolutionise the game and become one of the most enjoyable players in the NRL to watch: a workhorse with physical gifts mere mortals could not hope to emulate.
He was like The Drake from Seinfeld — everyone liked him, he was affable, and to dislike him was the unpopular opinion because even if he played for an opposition club he was still funny, and even if you hated him you at least respected what he could do.
Well, The Burge has quickly flipped this rugby league fan, doing the equivalent of what Drake did in giving away the wedding presents after breaking up with his fiancée — and now, I’m really starting to dislike The Burge.
It takes a lot for this writer to lose faith in someone — usually it takes irrefutable evidence which is hard to find in the tribal world of rugby league. Well, thankfully Twitter’s very own Jimmy Olsen, @EastsFan, came to the rescue — and if a picture tells a thousand words, what does a .gif tell?
(Thanks again to @EastsFan for supplying all these lovely gifs and to @tempewaters for first alerting me to the first one.)
This shit went viral like Kony. The Sunday Footy Show rightly called Burgess out, with Sterlo exclaiming “This is just crazy stuff!” And he’s right: in this day and age, with cameras everywhere, how did he think a blatant eye poke would not get noticed? But aside from that, why did he do it in the first place?
Eye gouges are still considered one of the dirtiest plays in the NRL, or anywhere really. While this probably falls on the low end of that, the sheer fact that he went out of his way to do it should be of great concern to the NRL. Well, that and the fact it’s a man sticking his fingers into the eyes of another man.
But he didn’t stop there.
In the second half Jared Waerea-Hargreaves spun out of a tackle and caught Chris McQueen in the throat with a raised forearm/elbow, an incident from which he’ll likely face suspension. McQueen went down and JWH was tackled soon after.
Burgess then came into it. With two players having already wrapped up JWH on the ground, Burgess then comes through and kicks him in the stomach. Don’t believe me? Here you go then (and if the following gifs aren’t working, click on them and they will):
Surely that’s it, right? Wrong! Burgess then courageously attacks Jared in the head and pushes it into the ground before retreating bravely, like the opposite of a kamikaze:
Some may argue that he did this in retaliation, and it may very well have been a retaliatory action. But just because you are retaliating to a perceived slight doesn’t make this behaviour any less wrong. Kicking a prone man in the stomach is disgraceful, pushing the head is just the gravy on the steak. And poking the eye of a player intentionally — which is what it was — remains and will continue to remain one of the more hideous acts one can do on the footy field.
He has been rightly criticised across all social media — but what is surprising is that the media media, which are usually loathe to criticise anything Souths-related for fear of losing viewers/readership/clicks, has been all over it. Sterlo already called it crazy, and even the normally pro-Souths-to-a-fault News Corp covered it, especially the poke, and suggested he might be in a spot of bother over it.
The NRL, up to this stage, has not said whether they will charge Burgess for these incidents on Friday, yet Roosters fans are demanding action. However, let’s take the Roosters factor out of this and just focus on the actions themselves.
This is three separate incidents in one game. If this were one game of frustration you could almost forgive it because things get heated and emotions spill over. But this tic-tac-toe of disreputable play is merely the latest in an expanding list of complaints against the Souths forward.
You may remember just last month that Burgess was suspended for two matches for this squirrel grip on Melbourne’s Will Chambers, which left the Storm centre writhing around in agony:
That scored him a two-game holiday, but Burgess already had a history at the judiciary prior to the nut job. He was suspended a week for a high tackle against the Roosters in round one, and don’t forget the crusher tackle on Andrew Fifita in round 11 which led to the powerful shark holding his neck in pain and which led to Burgess having another week off:
That is three suspensions in one year. I believe the kids call that a rap sheet.
If the NRL are serious he should at least front the judiciary and explain himself. The eye contact alone should warrant something given the record of previous eye-rake and gouge suspensions in the NRL’s history, while the remaining two incidents — especially the kick — should also face scrutiny if the NRL are fair dinkum.
They did their best to outlaw the punch and the shoulder charge yet both of those tactics, rightly or wrongly, are used in the promotion of the game: be it through big hits or at Origin time (perhaps not by the NRL, but Channel 9 and the papers certainly do). They are, for lack of a better phrase, within the spirit of the game.
Grabbing testicles, kicking prone men on the ground, grabbing their heads while on the ground and slamming them into the turf and poking players deliberately in the eye have not once been used to promote the game. And Burgess is really building up a catalogue of not-in-the-spirit plays.
What’s that saying: shake it once you’re ok, but shake it twice and you’re just playing with it? Well, The Burge has had more than one shake now, and it’s up to the NRL to determine whether that extra couple of shakes were necessary or whether he’s just having a wank.
If you are a Souths fan reading this, just ponder this for a second (even though I know you won’t): What if Sonny Bill pulled that shit? If you replace Burgess in those clips with SBW, you’d be calling for his head. FACT.
The NRL are now faced with a very serious test case: do they suspend a star on the eve of the finals and face the ridicule of a huge fanbase that is going to call them corrupt? Or will they let this one slide as they have so many incidents over the years, preserving big ticket sales throughout but at the perceived cost of consistency and image?
We should find out today. But just know that I used to like The Burge, as did a lot of people. He seemed a nice guy, funny and one that played the game hard.
But The Burge has metaphorically taken my wedding present of a big screen TV, broken up with his fiancée and given the big screen TV away, even though everyone knows once the engagement is off, I get the TV back. That’s business.
Now, I’m really starting to dislike The Burge.