Bunnies lose Burgess for start of 2019 season
GEORGE Burgess will miss South Sydney's opening three matches of the NRL season after being handed a four-match ban for eye-gouging.
The England forward was found guilty of an eye gouge on Dallin Watene-Zelezniak in their Test win over New Zealand at the weekend.
The incident, which occurred 20 minutes from the end of England's 20-14 victory, went unpunished by referee Gerard Sutton and Watene-Zelezniak brushed off the clash in his post-match interviews.
However, the Rugby Football League announced on Monday that New Zealand cited the incident and Burgess was referred to a disciplinary hearing. The Rabbitoh was also fined STG500, but has the option to appeal.
Kiwis and Penrith fullback Watene-Zelezniak had to have treatment for the injury, shortly after coming into contact on the ground with Burgess.
Burgess later apologised for the incident, saying on Twitter: "I want to make it completely clear to everyone that it was never my intention to ever gauge (sic) anyone.
"It is not in my makeup as a rugby league player and never has been. I sincerely apologise to anyone who thinks bad of me after seeing the footage.
"I accept my punishment but I will never accept that I gauged a fellow players eye intentionally. I have too much respect for the players I play against and with."
Burgess will miss miss Sunday's third Test against the Kiwis before serving his NRL ban.
The suspension is a major blow for Souths, who face defending-premiers Sydney Roosters in the opening round before a clash with the traditionally fast- starting St George Illawarra at Kogarah.
The Rabbitohs are already facing an uncertain start to their pre-season with speculation continuing to mount that Anthony Seibold and Wayne Bennett's coaching swap will come within weeks.