This article first appeared on RLWC.com.au.
England captain Sam Burgess had double reason to celebrate after leaving the NRL judiciaryhearing free to continue playing ahead of the upcoming Test against Samoa to attend a birthday dinner with his wife, Phoebe, in Sydney.
Burgess, who was facing a two match ban for a shoulder charge in South Sydney’s loss to Canterbury last weekend, used a series of still photos to help convince the judiciary of his innocence and will now play against Brisbane and Manly before the May 6 Test at Campbelltown Stadium.
“It was a fair hearing - it wasn't a shoulder charge, it was contact with the chest, and neck and head - so I'm thankful for that," said Burgess.
A relieved Burgess said after the judiciary panel deliberated for more than 30 minutes before Tony Puletua announced the verdict.
“I am looking forward to playing now but it’s my wife’s birthday so I need to get going. It is our first night without our daughter [12-week old Poppy] so I best get going.”
The Rabbitohs forward is expected to again be named as captain when the England team is announced on April 24 for their first 2017 hit-out before the Rugby League World Cup to be played in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea at the end of the season.
While Burgess would have been available for the Test if the judiciary delivered a different verdict, there should now be no doubts over his match fitness for what is expected to be a physical clash against a Samoa side determined to prove they will be a force at the World Cup.
However, he had to endure a nervous 90 minute hearing before being cleared after NRL prosecuting council Peter McGrath outlined his case that Burgess had been careless and used his shoulder to knock Bulldogs forward Greg Eastwood to the ground during the Good Friday clash.
The judiciary panel of Puletua, Mal Cochrane and Dallas Johnson were shown video footage of the incident from nine different camera angles and three still photos submitted by Burgess’s defence counsel Nick Ghabar.
Both sides used different video angles and still photos to argue for Burgess’s guilt or innocence, and the case was further clouded by his admission that he hadn’t attempted to use either arm to effect a tackle on Eastwood.
"There's not a tackle to be made. The ball had actually gone," Burgess said.
"I'm stationary the whole time and he is travelling towards me."
With Eastwood being a renowned ballplayer, Burgess said he had wanted to face square to the tryline so he could move on to tackle fellow Englishman James Graham or Canterbury halfback Moses Mbye if they received a pass.
“He ran so close to the line his shoulder contacted with my jaw,” Burgess said. “The contact between me and him is with my upper chest, neck and jaw.”
McGrath argued that Burgess had turned his left shoulder into Eastwood and made contact with his shoulder or upper arm.
“You’ve transferred weight to your left foot,” McGrath said. “You’ve leant forward with your upper left arm.”
NRL judiciary chairman Geoff Bellew told the panel that to find Burgess guilty they had to be satisfied there had been forceful contact between him and Eastwood, that it was generated by the Souths star, involved the use of his shoulder or upper arm and that his actions were careless.