Dragons player George Burgess has been spared a conviction over a road rage incident where he snatched a truck driver's phone and smashed it on a Wollongong roadway.
The high-profile recruit fronted Wollongong Local Court on Tuesday morning, pleading guilty to a charge of damage property stemming from an encounter on Denison St on August 23.
The court heard Burgess was on his way to a pharmacy to collect medication for his career-stalling hip injury when the truckie got out of his cab and began walking alongside Burgess' car, filming him.
Defence lawyer, Bryan Wrench, told the court Burgess was driving in badly congested traffic that was almost at a standstill, and that he "perceived it [the filming] as an invasion of his privacy".
"He was actually going to the pharmacy to relieve throbbing pain from a terrible surgery that he's had ... when the victim in this matter saw Mr Burgess, believed that he was using his phone ... shirks his duty, runs out with the phone and starts walking and recording for about 10-15 metres," Mr Wrench said.
"Mr Burgess asked what was the issue. He [the victim] said, 'no problem, keep doing what you're doing'.
"He [the truckie] seemed to take some malicious delight in filming Mr Burgess.
"It was a very bizarre incident."
The court heard the truckie returned to his car, only for Burgess to follow him, reach inside the cab and grab the man's mobile phone from his hand before throwing it on the road.
Mr Wrench said the incident came at a difficult time for Burgess, who had "going through immense pain and stress" related to his injury and relocation to Wollongong from England, where he was "medically retired" after just eight Super League appearances with Wigan.
Mr Wrench said phone records showed Burgess had not been making any calls on his phone at the time, but he had been lawfully using a navigational app to guide him to the pharmacy.
Magistrate Chris McRobert said the victim was entitled to film if he thought a crime had occurred and questioned why Burgess ever got out of his car.
"I have no difficulty in understanding it was a difficult time for him. He has an injury with no certainty that he's going to be able to recover to the point he's going to be able to resume his career," he said.
"In this world, Mr Burgess needs to understand, we're recorded all the time.
"He would be a high-profile person and would be recorded at all sorts of times.
"I take the view that if you were breaking the law, a citizen is entitled to record that and report it to police. If you weren't, you had nothing to fear. So one way or another, your subsequent actions were not justified."
Burgess had only recently signed a two-year-deal with the Dragons with hopes of resurrecting his NRL career from 2022, after undergoing surgery to repair a chronic hip issue.
The Dragons admitted the England International had "obstacles still to overcome" in returning to full fitness ahead of next season.
The magistrate considered Burgess' early plea and that he had since paid the victim the cost of the destroyed phone. He was placed on a 12-month conditional release order (formerly known as a good behaviour bond). No conviction was recorded.
Read more local court and crime stories here.