A hero’s wel­come awaits sad Burgess

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

SAM BURGESS’ re­turn to Aus­tralia marks the end of a sad chap­ter in English rugby while rub­bing salt into the wound of a host na­tion still smart­ing from an ab­sy­mal World Cup cam­paign.

Within a year of re­turn­ing home to try his hand at the 15man code, Burgess heads back to rugby league and Syd­ney, bruised and dis­il­lu­sioned af­ter be­com­ing a light­ning rod for crit­i­cism of England’s flop in the global show­piece.

The 26-year-old will re-join two of his three broth­ers at the South Syd­ney Rab­bitohs, the Na­tional Rugby League team he helped drive to a break­through cham­pi­onship in 2014.

The third brother plays for NRL ri­vals Manly, a short ferry- ride from the har­bour city’s CBD.

All are sup­ported by their Syd­ney-based mum Julie, who was heart­bro­ken when her son an­nounced he was leav­ing to pur­sue his World Cup dream.

Burgess will be 29 at the end of his three-year con­tract with the Rab­bitohs, all but en­sur­ing his union days will be re­mem­bered as an ill-fated cameo.

For 2003 World Cup-win­ning cen­tre Will Green­wood, English rugby union will be haunted by the “what ifs?” af­ter let­ting a still-de­vel­op­ing tal­ent slip through their fin­gers.

“Sad­ness. Com­plete and ut­ter sad­ness,” Green­wood wrote in a col­umn for Bri­tain’s Daily Tele­graph.

“Sad­ness that we will never find out how far Burgess could have gone in union. In my opin­ion, he could have been a huge star in 2019. Now we will never know.”

Few could be­grudge Burgess if he never turned a cov­etous eye to­ward England’s cam­paign for the 2019 World Cup in Ja­pan.

In work­ing hard to learn the in­tri­ca­cies of union at Bath, the bulky York­shire­man ful­filled his end of the bar­gain, stay­ing fo­cused on his task de­spite the skep­ti­cism that in­evitably dogged his ev­ery step on the play­ing field.

England coach Stu­art Lan­caster spoke of Burgess “forc­ing his hand” at the se­lec­tion ta­ble, even to the point that he was pre­pared to throw him in the cen­tres de­spite the player be­ing de­ployed as a flank at Bath.

The un­likely gam­bit ap­peared set to pay div­i­dends as late as England’s World Cup opener against Fiji, when Burgess’ di­rect run­ning and deft of­fload­ing im­pressed in a cameo off the bench.

His se­lec­tion in the start­ing side against Wales was hugely po­lar­is­ing, but he could hardly have been blamed for that nar­row de­feat, hav­ing been sub­sti­tuted well be­fore cap­tain Chris Rob­shaw es­chewed a penalty kick that could have cob­bled a draw.

De­moted for the fi­nal match against Aus­tralia, Burgess was in no po­si­tion to stave off a crush­ing de­feat from the bench and res­cue England’s World Cup cam­paign.

Yet when re­crim­i­na­tions came, it was of­ten Burgess fin­gered for the wider fail­ings of a team that patently strug­gled to live up to the hype.

Lur­ing Burgess back to league was a for­mal­ity for Aus­tralia’s cashed-up NRL, which main­tains a war chest of funds to se­cure mar­quee tal­ents.

A hero’s wel­come awaits Down Un­der for the player who won the Man- of- the- Match award in the NRL’s 2014 fi­nal while nurs­ing a bro­ken cheek­bone through most of the con­test.

The Rab­bitohs’ Os­car-win­ning owner Rus­sell Crowe helped lure Burgess away from England in 2009 and the player’s role in lift­ing the Rab­bitohs to their first cham­pi­onship in over 40 years had all the hall­marks of a feel-good Hol­ly­wood film.

The stint in union never went to script but Burgess could yet prove a smash hit in his Aus­tralian se­quel.

He could also prove a World Cup win­ner for England, but far from his home­land when rugby league stages its global cham­pi­onship in Aus­tralia, New Zealand and Pa­pua New Guinea in 2017. – Reuters

SAM BURGESS: NRL re­turn af­ter failed code swap

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.