Rugby League has missed an opportunity to set a precedent with their handling of the George Burgess eye-gouge.

In the wake of that incident, the England forward shouldn't be seen on a league field for months – but instead he was slapped with a token four-week ban.

Given the circumstances, and what has happened in the past, he should have got at least 12 weeks.


It's a sick joke.

Talk to any player and they will tell you that attacking the eye is one of the lowest acts in the sport.

That's why it hardly ever happens.

In a game that is as rough as they come, with a lot tolerated, it's a line that players just don't cross.

Burgess did.

He might be a "good bloke", and like his brothers held in high esteem in the league community in Australia and England

But that's irrelevant.

This was a despicable act that could have had horrible and dangerous consequences.


Imagine the conversation now if Kiwis captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak had suffered lasting damage to his eye, or his vision?

Still from video showing England's George Burgess eye-gouging Kiwi captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak. Photo / Sky
Still from video showing England's George Burgess eye-gouging Kiwi captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak. Photo / Sky

No matter how you review the footage, it's hard to argue that it was in any way accidental.

There was plenty of intent unless for that moment in time Burgess' body and control of his hands were suddenly taken over by another being – like something out of Ghostbusters or Alien.

And it's perhaps no coincidence that the Kiwis captain was targeted; up till that point, he was one of the most influential New Zealand players on the field.

It's not like a shoulder charge or a high shot, where there are other factors at play, as the tackled player might fall at the last moment or puts on a sidestep.

Watene-Zelezniak was pinned and prone on the ground.

This was a big chance for the sport to make a statement; to issue a punishment on such a scale that no player would ever contemplate such an act again.

It should have been a Les Boyd kind of moment.

The former Manly and Kangaroos prop was banned for 12 months back in 1983 for a king hit on Daryl Brohman (the former Origin prop, now popular media pundit) that broke the Queensland player's jaw.

Life after the incident was never the same for both men, with Boyd seeing out his career in England and Brohman failing to achieve his goal of playing for Australia.

Eye-gouging has, thankfully, become a rare event over the last few decades.

But when it does happen, it's punished quite severely.

Former Kiwi international Gary Freeman copped a 12-week ban back for an eye-gouge back in 1989, despite arguing his case at the judiciary until the early hours of the morning.

Ex-Penrith and Kangaroos forward Mark Geyer was hit with a 10-week sentence for a similar offence in 1997.

The most notorious was the 20-week suspension copped by Steve Linnane for an eye-gouge on former Warriors and Panther halfback Greg Alexander in 1987.

And even rugby union, which is often criticised for its lenient sentences for foul play, got it right back in 1992 when All Blacks prop Richard Loe was slapped with a 26-week ban for eye-gouging Otago's Greg Cooper, who also happened to be a teammate at international level.

Wednesday was a chance for the game's power brokers to send a message to players and aspiring players, as well as fans old and new, that some things are unforgivable.

But, unfortunately, the weak response, which included a feeble £500 ($971) fine, means all will be forgotten in a few days.