Sam Burgess

Why are we allowing the NRL’s thugs to play the victim?

NRL judiciary system: (to Jared Waerea-Hargreaves) Hands up, you scuzzbag! (Sam Burgess raises his hands) (to Sam) Nah, not you, the tripping scuzzbag.

Waerea-Hargreaves: (raises his hands) Yo, chill out, dude. I’ll pay the fine.

Judiciary system: Not this time, you won’t; because this is your third strike. First, you torched that orphanage, then you blew up that bus full of nuns…

Waerea-Hargreaves: Hey, that was self-defence!

Judiciary system: Well, you’ll be seeing lots of nuns where you’re going, pal: Hell! Because the penalty for strike three is death.

Alright, my reference went a little off the rails at the end there, but the Roosters losing the services of their forward leader for next week’s preliminary final reminded me of that exchange between Snake and Chief Wiggum in The Simpsons.

Because while Waerea-Hargreaves’ attempted trip on James Roberts was at the very, very light end of the scale – akin to smoking in a confined public area – he wouldn’t be on the sidelines next week if he wasn’t a serial offender.

Indeed, his was a fineable offence but for the fact this was his sixth charge this year.

According to the NRL, “Players who are charged with three or more offences during the same season will not be eligible to accept a financial penalty.”

What’s more, this was the fourth guilty finding against the Kiwi prop.

Which is where Phil Gould and Sam Burgess’ argument – just keep fining him – falls apart.

If a player has been whacked by the judiciary three times and still commits a grubby act, why would a fine teach them differently on the fourth occasion?

That was Gould’s line of reasoning on Channel Nine on Monday night.

“The offence shouldn’t be a suspended offence. They’ve been fining it forever,” Gould said.

Well, no, it hasn’t been fined forever. The concept of paying a fine rather than sitting out matches was only brought into the NRL at the start of the 2017 season.

Prior to that, a tripping charge carried the very real possibility of resulting in a player missing a game (and, in fact, it’s only a grade one tripping charge that can result in a fine – anything higher cops at least 200 demerit points).

So just three years ago, this wasn’t a discussion we were having – Waerea-Hargreaves would have been out. Case closed.

But more to the point, why the hell should he be allowed the lighter penalty of a fine over missing a game if he has ignored previous sanctions?

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He’s played 19 games this season and been found (or pleaded) guilty on four occasions. That’s grubby play at an average of once every 4.75 games.

If you can’t go five weeks without committing an act that either endangers another player or goes against the spirit of the game, why should you be allowed the same level of leniency as someone who is fronting the judiciary for the first time?

Because that’s the point of these fines: not to let serial grubs pay to play, but to give relative cleanskins a bit of a break for committing low-end offences.

As for paying more per offence – “I bet when it gets to $10,000 they won’t do it,” Gus argued – well, you’d think after fronting the judiciary on five previous occasions throughout the year, a player would get the message.

But guys like Waerea-Hargreaves and Burgess have made it abundantly clear that’s not the case.

What’s more, Burgess blew Gus’ argument out of the water when he actually said what we were all thinking: players who make a fortune would rather lose thousands of dollars than spend a week on the sidelines.

“Players will pay whatever,” Burgess told a media conference this week.

“Better than maybe senior players miss big games, that’s what we play nine months for.”

Burgess saying as much really serves to undermine Gus’ argument – because, of course, a guy making $1 million a year will pay ten grand to play a game for which he’ll earn almost twice that amount.

Sam Burgess

Sam Burgess has more or less admitted fines aren’t a deterrent. (Photo by Will Russell/Getty Images)

It’s the reason we have demerit points for speeding – at a certain point, it becomes apparent that the fines aren’t getting through to reckless drivers and so we suspend their license.

If you want to teach someone a lesson, you have to punish them with something that hurts.

For the likes of Waerea-Hargreaves and Burgess, it’s clear a hit to the hip pocket isn’t making a difference. Taking away the game they’ve played all year to qualify for? Yeah, that’s going to create a more lasting impression.

In fact, in Waerea-Hargreaves’ case, another dangerous contact charge – which he’s been done for three times this year – should result in a serious suspension.

Ultimately though, the frustrating thing is how guys who commit foul play have somehow been made the victims in all this. Apparently the judiciary are the bad guys, robbing us fans of the stars of the game.

Here’s an idea: don’t want to miss games? Don’t play like a thug.

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