Farewell to a gen­uine su­per­star of the game

Sam Burgess, one of Eng­land’s great sport­ing ex­ports, won Aus­tralian hearts as an NRL icon

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport - James Graham was speak­ing on be­half of Da­cia, proud part­ners of the Great Bri­tain Rugby League Lions and Eng­land na­tional teams JAMES GRAHAM GB CAP­TAIN

Sam Burgess an­nounced his re­tire­ment this week and I can only pay trib­ute to a gen­uine su­per­star of the game and some­one I am proud to call a friend. Hav­ing played with and against him for well over a decade, I know what an un­be­liev­able com­peti­tor and spe­cial tal­ent Sam was.

The 2014 NRL Grand Fi­nal, South Syd­ney Rab­bitohs v Can­ter­bury Bull­dogs, summed him up when he suf­fered a bro­ken cheek­bone and eye socket. It was the first tackle of the game and, as Sam ran to­wards me, I thought: “Oh God, here we go.”

I did not feel great but it was ob­vi­ously far worse for Sam, given his in­juries. But he went on to win the Clive Churchill Medal as the match’s best player and was a huge rea­son why Souths won that game.

But it goes deeper. Sam drove Souths for­ward for sev­eral years lead­ing up to that fi­nal and was hugely in­stru­men­tal in them be­com­ing a cham­pion team.

I am loath to com­pare Sam to other great play­ers be­cause there are so many vari­ables. I al­ways re­mem­ber that great bat­tle he had with Sonny Bill Wil­liams in the 2013 World Cup semi-fi­nal at Wem­b­ley.

What I will say is that Sam came over to the NRL – in a coun­try where English­men are not well liked – and he dom­i­nated it. More­over, he won the hearts and minds of peo­ple there.

Sam and his three broth­ers, Tom, Ge­orge and Luke, all played to­gether for Souths and I know how much that meant to them. It was quite the sport­ing achieve­ment.

Sam’s a bit of a celebrity but when you are with him, he is fun­da­men­tally the same lad who grew up in West York­shire. He has never let go of that and I think he needs to be com­mended for it.

I re­mem­ber watch­ing him burst on to the scene at Brad­ford Bulls as a 17-year-old and think­ing, “Wow, this guy can throw him­self about.”

The first time we played against each other, Sam hit Gareth Frod­sham, a promis­ing young prop at St He­lens, like a ton of bricks. Con­fi­dence-wise, I don’t think Gareth ever re­cov­ered.

Twelve years ago, Sam made his Great Bri­tain de­but, when we beat New Zealand in Hud­der­s­field. Sam be­ing Sam, he an­nounced him­self on the world stage with a huge hit on Fui­fui Moimoi, then one of the world’s most feared for­wards.

We were room-mates dur­ing that Test se­ries and have been good friends ever since.

You knew when he crossed that white line he was go­ing to give his best and that in­spired you to do like­wise. He made you feel com­fort­able be­cause you knew how much abil­ity he had as a de­fender and an at­tacker.

A lot of top-level play­ers are one or the other, but he could hurt the op­po­si­tion in both de­part­ments.

He was just a phe­nom­e­nal leader and some­one you looked for­ward to play­ing with, so I wish him well in what­ever he de­cides to do next.

Last week­end saw Great Bri­tain lose our open­ing game of the tour to Tonga, who were ex­cep­tional and wor­thy win­ners.

They were re­ally smart tac­ti­cally and we suf­fered in­juries to Oliver

Gil­dart and Luke Thomp­son. I am gut­ted in par­tic­u­lar for Oliver, whose tour is over as he re­quires shoul­der surgery.

We will take pos­i­tives from last week, smarten up, and take that into the New Zealand game to­mor­row.

Joe Philbin is set for his de­but and he’s a young, in­fec­tious ball of en­ergy. I am a St He­lens fan and, watch­ing this year’s Chal­lenge Cup fi­nal, I was think­ing, “Can some­one please stop this lad Philbin?” He was sen­sa­tional in War­ring­ton’s vic­tory and de­serves his chance in a Great Bri­tain jer­sey.

So too does Jake Con­nor, who takes Oliver’s place in the cen­tres. Jake is a nat­u­ral tal­ent and I am look­ing for­ward to him show­ing what he can do and pos­si­bly keep­ing his place for a long time.

Un­be­liev­able com­peti­tor: Sam Burgess gave his best ev­ery time he crossed the white line

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