The greatest game of all has a litany of villains who have earned notoriety. Each and every one of us can cast our minds back to our foundation years as supporters and recall the men who sometimes took things a little too far.
My earliest memories are of an intimidating Terry Randall, ripping and tearing in the 1970’s for the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles. He had little or no fear of suspension and a willingness to do whatever was necessary in order to gain a psychological and physical advantage over an opponent.
The Sea Eagles and Sharks had set the bar for 70’s thuggery in the 1973 Grand Final, when Englishman Cliff Watson played a key role in turning the match from a game of football into a violent brawl.
Former Western Suburbs and Newtown halfback Tommy Raudonikis took a similar approach later that decade. Raudonikis was not concerned with appropriateness or the sporting. At a time when match payments ruled and a win made the following week considerably more comfortable than a loss, he was ruthless, primal and frankly, brutal.
At a time where television coverage was rather limited and rudimentary, the opportunities to see Raudonikis in action were few and far between. My understanding of his thuggish approach to the game only became clear years later, after reading much historical rugby league literature.
Steve Mortimer’s account of the day Raudonikis took a hunk of meat from his knee with his teeth in a City vs Country clash in the late seventies is alarming, yet worth reading.
The 80’s saw a number of men make considerable efforts to outdo the actions of some of the more notable thugs of the 1970’s. Les Boyd did his very best, with a teeth shattering elbow to the jaw of Darryl Brohman in 1983 that saw him earn nine months on the sidelines. Bob Cooper sat out of the game for 15 months after his violent attack on three Illawarra Steelers players in 1982.
Steve Linnane also found his way into rugby league folklore after a cowardly eye gouge on Greg Alexander in 1987 earned him a 20-week suspension.
As time went on the villains continued to appear. Englishman Adrian Morley was suspended for a total of 26 weeks in his relatively short six-year stint with the Roosters from 2001-06. The notorious John Hopoate served a total of 45 weeks suspension over the course of a 12-year NRL career with three separate clubs.
Hopoate copped a 17-week ban for a cheap shot on Keith Galloway yet will always be more famous for inserting his roaming digits into the anuses of three North Queensland players in 2001. The judiciary’s guilty finding of ‘unsportsmanlike interference’ is undoubtedly its most creative use of language.
Some offer context as reasons for such behaviours, citing the cultural toughness and violence that existed in the game at the time.
People tell me, “that’s the way it was”, others lament those days, hoping to “bring back the biff” to re-energise what they see as a highly sanitised modern game.
The reality is, that the game is as violent and brutal as ever; made worse by a hamstrung and cowardly judiciary that appears to lack the courage and fortitude to dish out the lengthy suspensions of its predecessors.
George Burgess’ potentially dangerous attack on the eye of Robbie Farah last Thursday only enunciated that fact and the Englishman walking away with just nine weeks on the sideline is laughable.
His convenient return for the Rabbitohs’ likely involvement in the first round of the NRL finals stinks to high heaven and the judiciary’s punishment fails to address the concerns of fans, parents of young players and the corporate investors in the game who should all demand a cleaner product.
The irony of the suspension is that administrations of the past were far less forgiving when it came to dishing out punishments, despite the fallacy around the cleanliness in the modern game.
When Cooper appeared before the judiciary after his violent assault in 1982, then-Chairman Jim Comans stated rather categorically, “Acts such as these must be obliterated from the game, and I’ll begin by obliterating you.”
No such language was used at Tuesday night’s hearing where Burgess learned his fate. Instead, the rugby league community suffered through the words of apparent violence apologist, South Sydney General Manager Shane Richardson, as he spoke of the incident as being ‘unfortunate’ and a ‘tragedy’.
The loss of vision in Robbie Farah’s eye could potentially be described in that way but not the intentional actions of Burgess. Strangely there was little or no reference to remorse or Farah in Richardson’s rather brisk and insulting statement.
Despite the widespread belief that the NRL has made consistent efforts to eliminate actions such as the one we saw on Thursday night, the reality is that compared to Linnane, Burgess got off lightly.
The NRL judiciary cannot expect to taken seriously if a penalty near half of what Linnane received in 1987 is deemed adequate in 2019.
The fact that Burgess has form after his attack on the eye of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak last year, only makes this decision more absurd and should have the Rabbitohs feeling like the luckiest club in the NRL right now.