Written by John Davidson
Photo by Photo PA Sport
James Graham has defended England Test teammate George Burgess over his eye-gouging incident, but admits it is “strange” that the prop has gouged again.
South Sydney forward Burgess was handed a nine-game ban on Tuesday after pleading guilty in gouging Wests Tigers hooker Robbie Farah in the NRL last weekend.
It is the second time the 27-year-old has been suspended for eye-gouging in the past nine months, after he was sidelined for four games after being found guilty of the same offence against Dallin Watene-Zelezniak in the second Test against New Zealand in Liverpool.
Burgess’ ban is the longest in the competition since Graham was suspended for 12 games for biting the ear of Billy Slater in the 2012 grand final.
Asked about the issue, Graham told NRL360: “George is a personal friend of mine, and I was with him in camp when he went through things after the Test with New Zealand.
“I know how gutted he was, the perception of his character was going to be attacked a bit and how he didn’t want to be known as that type of person.
“I think road to recovery and rebuilding that character… is going to start now, and he does that by how he conducts himself.
“I can’t answer why he’s done it again. It does seem strange.
“I was with him [in November], I had the conversation and I could see he worry in his face and how emotional he was around that time. It does seem a strange one to have happened again.”
Graham conceded that sometimes the aggression of players can boil over on the field.
“In the heat of the battle sometimes that mark can be overstepped and you behave in a way that isn’t you,” the 33-year-old said.
“For George, there will be character assassinations coming for him and it’s up to him to prove them wrong and change the perception of him.”
Graham is no stranger to scandal after his bite on Slater’s ear seven years ago.
“For me, that’s all been compartmentalized now,” the St George Illawarra front-rower said.
“That was a very difficult time in my life, again I’m not playing the victim with that – but it was.
“I did a lot of soul-searching around that period. It’s something I don’t really revisit at all and it’s something that has no real emotional response from me.
“I’ve certainly put that behind me and moved forward.”
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