On Sunday night, I noticed one online commentator claim that Sam Burgess should have been replaced because of his fractured cheekbone but declare his performance one of the greatest ever by
a British sportsman.
Can we have it both ways?
We now have the contradictory development of South Sydney being investigated by the NRL over Burgess' alleged concussion but not over him being permitted to play on with a serious facial fracture which could have resulted in blindness.
Rugby league's evolution never goes in a straight line. There are always twists, turns and dead ends.
In 2014, brain injuries are the issue of the moment, largely because of events in American Football regarding a class action by players. In the NRL, shoulder charges have been banned and a concussion assessment rule implemented to address the concerns, despite traditionalists claiming the game is "getting soft".
Conversely, the terrible neck injury to Alex McKinnon led to some interpretation changes among NRL referees but nothing concrete in terms of stamping out the lifting tackle. There was a fear a previous rule change to stop the cannonball tackle may have led to an increase in the practice and another alteration to the game's laws, without proper investigation, could have another unforseen and negative outcome.
Penrith coach Ivan Cleary commented during the season that although things are being cleaned up, "these are still tough men who put up with a lot of pain". He believes halfback Peter Wallace playing on with a serious knee injury played a major role in inspiring his teammates to progress so far in the competition.
If rugby league players stop ignoring painful injuries to continue in matches, what would we be left with? And how might that happen?
There are two powerful factors in determining what is acceptable and what isn't: community standards and legal action.
Community standards are at the point that someone staggering with concussion – once deemed funny and depicted in cartoons with birds circling one's head – is no longer acceptable.
I would argue that community standards currently regard what Sam Burgess did as heroic, not irresponsible. We are not at the point yet where watching someone play on with an injury such as his makes us sick in the stomach.
At some point in the future, we will probably get to that point. For now, the vast majority of people would have preferred Burgess stay out there and do what he did.
Little has been said about an attempted head butt on Burgess in the scrum, probably the only event on Sunday night at ANZ Stadium that did not show the game in a good light.
But changes can be accelerated ahead of community standards by legal action. If a player sues a club for negligence after being allowed to stay on the field with a serious injury, the evolution of the game would be sped up considerably – money talks.
Once we get to that hurdle we will again face the question of whether we want rugby league to be one sport – for participants and spectators – or whether we will have to divide the two for safety reasons.
The punching ban by David Smith clearly demonstrated a determination not to make that split yet.