SHOULD Burgess have returned to Rugby League? This is the question on a lot of the Rugby World’s mind. The answer is simple: yes.
Burgess is arguably the single greatest Rugby League Forward to ever bless the game. In his career he has played for Bradford Bulls, South Sydney Rabbitohs, England and Great Britain, dominating every opposition he has come up against. Most noticeably, he has been compared with two-time Rugby World Cup winner Sonny Bill Williams, due to both playing the same positions in League as rivals, as well as both converting to Union at some point or another.
In several encounters where Sonny Bill and Burgess have played opposite one another in League, Burgess has ran through and outperformed Sonny Bill. The man is a superb athlete and a brilliant rugby player, so it was only natural that Rugby Union were interested in him. But, as soon as he signed his fate with Bath, he was doomed to fail.
Using Sonny Bill as an example, Burgess’ best position was always going to be as an Inside Centre, which is the exact position England were interested in him for. When he signed for Bath, they already had the two in-form Centres in the country playing for them at the time in the forms of Jonathan Joseph and Kyle Eastmond, both stand out England internationals. Both players were regularly putting in fantastic performances, leaving no room for Burgess in their back line, other than on the bench.
You don’t drop such class, in-form players for a newcomer to a sport, regardless of how good they are. This meant that Bath were also playing Burgess in the back row due to a lack of depth the club had in this position. Back row is a specialist position, requiring years of experience to master the intricacies of the line out, scrum and break down area.
With barely a month’s experience under his belt, it was ridiculous of Bath to try and get Burgess to play this position. It in no way helped Burgess as a player, and only served to take time away from him learning how to be a Centre, which still is the only position Burgess should be playing in Rugby Union. Due to this, Burgess was always fighting an uphill battle to get in the England squad and cement his name in the team.
But he did it – he got into the World Cup game day squads, and, wherever he was on the pitch, made an impression. He was a stand out defender for England, making huge hits at critical moments. His offloads caused havoc for other teams, and due to his physicality he was often sucking in 2-3 defenders, creating room for England to attack. Despite all this, he still came under massive scrutiny from the English media and Rugby Union fans, sparking debate after debate on whether he should be there. No matter how well he played, he was criticised and left feeling very unwelcome.
In Rugby League, playing for South Sydney Rabbitohs, he was surrounded by family. He was loved and celebrated as a player, and more importantly he was played in the positions he loved, for fans that supported him, and was criticised by no one. Rugby Union was doing nothing for his career other than to have people criticise him, unfairly judge him and in the end, tried using him as a scapegoat for a terrible World Cup campaign which he could have done nothing to improve.
I do feel if he’d have signed with another high level Union club in the premiership, such as Northampton Saints or Saracens, then maybe his story would have been completely different, as these clubs would have 100% used him as a Centre only. Rugby Union as a whole let Sam Burgess down; there was nothing positive to keep him in the sport and away from Rugby League and the Rabbitohs, where he made his name and has a great future. I am excited to see him back in Sydney Rabbitohs’ colours, playing alongside his brothers George, Tom and Luke, where he can play at the highest level and hopefully represent England in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup in Australia. He made the right decision to return, and good luck to him.