George Burgess's South Sydney career remains alive after he was handed a nine-match suspension – the longest ban delivered by the judiciary in seven years – despite swearing on "my kids' lives" that he did not intentionally eye-gouge former Rabbitohs teammate Robbie Farah.
With nine regular season games remaining for South Sydney - they have the bye this weekend - Burgess will not be available for Rabbitohs selection until the qualifying finals begin on September 13.
He had been facing a potential season ending ban as NRL counsel initially pushed for a three-month suspension - including loading from Burgess’s previous charge of eye-gouging - on Tuesday night at NRL headquarters.
Not since James Graham's 12-game suspension for biting Billy Slater in the 2012 grand final has a player been banned for so long by the judiciary.
The 27-year-old's ban was amplified by 50 per cent loading from a previous eye gouge on New Zealand's Dallin Watene-Zelezniak while Burgess was playing for England last November.
The three-man judiciary panel of Mal Cochrane, Bob Lindner and Dallas Johnston took 30 minutes to rub Burgess out after an 80-minute hearing.
Burgess was grilled by NRL counsel Peter McGrath throughout the evening, with McGrath claiming Burgess' actions were "deliberate and intentional".
McGrath argued that Farah had been placed "in the most vulnerable position" as his arms were immobilised in the tackle by other Souths defenders, leaving the Tigers rake "completely unable to protect himself".
But Burgess and his defence James McLeod denied any deliberate bid to attack Farah's eyes, while freely conceding that the incident was the result of "serious carelessness".
"I was in autopilot trying to save the try and slow the play the ball down," Burgess said.
"It wasn't until after I realised I got him in the face. I was shocked really. Things are going a million miles an hour. I swear on my kids' lives I didn't know I had my hands in his eyes.
"That was the most careless thing about the tackle, I was going in blind with my hands. My eyes were looking out and obscured by player Damien Cook who was in front of me on the tackle.
"I won't accept that I deliberately went out to poke his eye. I just can't accept that. It's not the kind of person I am."
But when McGrath contended that a pattern of behaviour was present in Burgess's second incident of eye-gouging following his contact on Watene-Zelezniak last November, Burgess conceded "I do accept that".
The NRL's counsel initially pushed for a 12-15 week suspension, to be reduced by 25 per cent due to Burgess's guilty plea, while his defence argued for a seven-eight week suspension also to be reduced by his admission of guilt.
As well as Burgess' previous incident involving Watene-Zelezniak, McGrath also compared the Farah contact to the grade three dangerous contact charge against Canberra's Hudson Young on Aiden Tolman – for which Young pleaded guilty to a five-game ban.
The off-contract Englishman cut a sullen figure throughout the hearing, admitting that his bid to earn a new contract at Souths or elsewhere in the NRL was now in jeopardy after knocking back a lucrative offer to join the Eels at the start of the season.
With no chance of game time over the nine weeks left in the regular season Burgess' market value is in free-fall, with a return to Super League in 2020 an increasingly likely option for the premiership-winning prop.
"I've been pretty upset," Burgess said with Souths' boss Shane Richardson and football manager Mark Ellison sat by his side.
"My career is probably in the balance. What I've done looks pretty disgraceful on the footage there. It's a shame really.
"I apologised to (Farah) on the field and after the game I went up to him and apologised again. I'm definitely going to change the way I play. I'm going to be a lot more cautious ... I will be more careful."
Richardson gave a brief statement afterwards to awaiting media on behalf of Burgess and the club.
"I just wanted to say we’re happy with the hearing we’ve got tonight," Richardson said.
"It’s a tragedy for George and his family… George is a loving father; brother and son. At South Sydney he's been nothing but an ornament to the club.
"I don't think this should ever define what George Burgess is about. It's an unfortunate incident that he's pleaded guilty to but it will not define his career."