Remember remember 6th November. Sam Burgess is back with The Bunnies of South Sydney. Burgess has definitely made the correct decision by leaving Bath Rugby and returning to Rugby League was a no-brainer, the sport he has made history in with The South Sydney Rabbitohs. There are numerous reasons why he has made the right move, and it is hard to argue against his decision.
First of all his family lives in Sydney. His mother is a teacher at a local school and his maternal grandmother is there too. His twin brothers George and Tom have recently signed long-term contracts with the South Sydney club and his older brother Luke is still within touching distance at The Manly Sea Eagles. This winter he will marry his fiancée Phoebe Hooke, Australian herself, with a view to building a life and having a family out there in the long term.
Along the eastern coast of Australia Rugby League is the national game afforded countless column inches and minutes of airtime. In the next 24 months Rugby League is the code to play. Next autumn sees world-champions Australia with Johnathan Thurston and Sam Thaiday coming to our shores as part of a revamped Four Nations followed by the World Cup down under twelve months after.
The Rabbitoh’s part owner Russell Crowe calls Sam Burgess ‘The Sparkly Eyed Man’, and eulogises about the Bradfordian:
“I have a theory about a certain type of player, like a Ron Coote, a Steve Menzies, a Gordon Tallis. I call it ‘The Sparkly Eyed Man’. Those ‘Sparkly Eyed Men’, they carve their name deep in Rugby League.”
The narrative between the Academy Award winner and The 2014 Clive Churchill Medal Winner (won despite a broken cheekbone incurred in tackle one of the Grand Final) is intrinsic to the Sam Burgess South Sydney Story. Shortly after his arrival, Crowe gave Sam’s late father Mark, victim of debilitating Motor Neurone Disease, an honorary Vice President’s Lifetime Membership and a lifetime season ticket at ANZ Stadium. If you were ever to watch a Rabbitohs home game and the camera were to pan to Crowe in the stands, you would be able to see that the seat to his left is always empty. It is Mark’s seat. This is a refreshing story of a British sportsman at the top choosing adoration of family and fans alike over the inflated salaries of Rugby Union.
Add to the melting pot that Australia’s Rugby Union team were runners-up in the recent Rugby World Cup whilst England were knocked out at the group stages, the ruthless Australian journalists will defend Burgess’ career move and view it as entirely justified. Gone are the days of being solely to blame for England’s premature exit from their home World Cup in the eyes of the Union-centric media. Steve Jones of The Sunday Times among others looked to pin JFK’s assassination, the melting of polar ice caps and other equally fair atrocities on Slammin’ Sam, such was the vindictive bitterness of the keyboard warriors in the Union press pack.
When Burgess left the field versus Wales, England lead 25-18 with less than twenty minutes to play. Burgess should not have had to pay for the ineptitude of the England coaching and playing staff. Lest we forget England’s Defence Coach Andrew Farrell made the same move across the codes in 2006 and his silence on the subject is deafening. The RFU afforded Sam Burgess no protection and was let down by everybody in a position of responsibility, including the Director of Rugby at Bath who slandered Burgess’ character after the switch. So much for a band of brothers, this was heinous, unjustifiable backstabbing.
Yes, Luther Burrell was unfortunate not to be picked in the squad at Centre, but after the number of pairings Stuart Lancaster trialed in the positions both inside and outside, it is harsh on the ex-PE teacher to say he didn’t give them a fair crack at making that place theirs. When a Union novice takes your place and fares well in the toughest group in the 28-year history of the competition, the problem lies with you; not Sam Burgess, but you. Burgess’ Union career was a success, becoming an international less than twelve months after jumping ship. That is not congruent with the definition of ‘failure’.
Sam Burgess is back where he belongs in a sport tailor made for that intangible sparkle in his eye.