Instead of letting go, Burgess decided to use the point of his elbow to massage the Shark veteran’s face.
He did this in full view of the referees, who had no choice but to blow the plenty. Gallen jumped to his feet and laughed in Burgess’ face.
“He had his hand in my face, my throat!” Burgess protested to referee Adam Gee. “Grabbing, scratching …”
And he was right. Replays show Gallen ever-so-subtly jamming his right fist into Burgess’ throat before nudging his chin.
Spider 1, Fly 0 …
Talk about the hunter becoming the hunted.
A decade ago, that would’ve Gallen’s elbow rearranging some poor bloke’s face. Or grabbing someone’s testicles. Or plunging his fingers into the stitched-up wounds on a rival’s forehead.
That all changed in 2009 when Ricky Stuart, who was Gallen’s coach at the Sharks at the time, took him to visit Ron Massey, the former right-hand man of Jack Gibson at Parramatta.
“This isn’t going to be nice,” Stuart told him as they knocked on Massey’s front door.
“What do you mean?” Gallen said.
Stuart didn’t have time to answer before the door flew open and Gallen was greeted by Massey’s imposing head, which had been gnarled by years of working and living and fighting hard.
“You’re a f—ing soft c–k,” Massey blurted out before dressing down the game’s hardest hardman.
Gallen recalled the seminal moment on 100% Footy on Monday night, saying Massey was so aggressive that he wondered if the old bloke was about to start throwing punches.
“But then it all settled down and he said to me, ‘Mate, I understand what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to do the right thing by your team. But you’ve got to understand that the penalties you’re giving away, trying to prove you’re tough – it doesn’t help anyone, it doesn’t help your team and it also hurts you’.
“It took me all that time for someone to sit me down and explain that to me. And, without doubt, that was the turning point.”
Until that point, Gallen was one of the most suspended players in the NRL. Now Burgess walks in those same shoes.
He just tries to hurt everybody, and you don’t need to. You just need to be effective. And I had to work that out.
Paul Gallen on Sam Burgess
He fronted the judiciary on Tuesday night seeking a downgrade of the grade-two charge for his high shot on Moylan.
While he was succesful and will only have to pay a fine, Burgess still finds himself parked at an important crossroad.
Forget about barroom debates about him “hurting his legacy”. Winning the 2014 grand final with a fractured eye socket is how the Englishman will be remembered long into retirement.
He’s not hurting his legacy but his team. You can’t be the “heart and soul” of a side watching from the grandstand.
“Without a doubt [he could benefit from talking to someone like Massey],” Gallen said. “I just don’t know who could have that conversation with Sam.”
The obvious answer is Wayne Bennett, who was as close as anyone to Massey, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 86.
But Bennett’s been there, done that, got the t-shirt about lecturing Burgess about his discipline. He’s done it as coach of England and Souths. He’s tried to do it privately and through the media.
Others at Souths have done it, too, just like they told former hooker Issac Luke about his suspect technique of picking players up and driving them into the ground.
He didn’t listen and then missed the 2014 grand final win after up-ending Sonny Bill Williams in the preliminary final against the Roosters. Luke is currently suspended for a dangerous throw on Parramatta’s Dylan Brown.
Burgess has admitted he has issues with his discipline. Sort of.
“In the last couple of years, I’ve made a conscious effort to try to change it and I looked at where my penalties came and there was a bit of a pattern, so I just tried to change the pattern,” he said earlier this year. “I seemed to have done that.”
He seems to have not. Burgess needs to change because the game won’t be changing for him.
“I’m not going to say he’s too aggressive because I like his aggression,” Gallen said. “I love the way he plays, but he just tries to hurt everybody, and you don’t need to. You just need to be effective. And I had to work that out.
“Instead of being effective, he’s being too aggressive.”
That lack of control hurt Souths against the Sharks.
Bennett moved Burgess from the middle of the field to the edge this season, so Burgess now rushes up on playmakers who are either about to kick or the run ball, like Moylan was before Burgess’ swinging arm collected him on the jaw.
Moylan will not play this weekend because of the concussion he suffered from the tackle.
Perhaps Bennett should move Burgess back to the middle but that won’t stop him taking the bait like he did when Gallen presented it to him.
The only person who can save Big Sammy is Big Sammy.
His aggression won Souths a grand final. It could win them another. But it could also stop him from being there when they need him most.
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.