Earlier this week, Sam Burgess announced he would be leaving the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the world of Rugby League to sign for Aviva Premiership side, Bath RUFC.
Burgess is arguably the best English league player around and arguably the best forward in the game. His performances in the NRL (some claiming him to be the best ever British export to the Australian League) as well as his high profile status have constantly lead to rumours about him defecting to the more lucrative code of Union.
His loss comes as a huge blow to the sport of Rugby League and in particular English Rugby League. At a time when it is becoming much rarer to see players switch codes, to lose your biggest star is very disappointing. There was some hope that Burgess would follow in the footsteps of Sam Tomkins who turned down a move to Union in order to try his luck in the NRL. But alas he chose to switch codes with the World Cup in England next year a clear factor in his decision.
For the England RL team there is a need to find a new leader ahead of the Four Nations in the autumn. Whilst Kevin Sinfield has captained the side, Burgess was its undoubted leader on the field, driving a hugely impressive forward pack at last year’s World Cup. Can his younger brothers George and Tom come in to fill that void? Will Sean O’Loughlin find a sustained spell of fitness to take his place? Can James Graham continue his fine form in the NRL and translate that to international success? These are all questions that coach Steve McNamara will need to address to continue the progress that has been made in the quest to catch up with their Southern Hemisphere rivals.
For the England RU team there is a sense that a young team could be on the cusp of something special with the World Cup just around the corner. It is expected that Burgess will play Centre where he faces strong competition for a place in the side with Manu Tuilagi, Billy Twelvetrees, Luther Burrell, Brad Barritt and fellow League convert, Kyle Eastmond all vying for selection. I have no doubt that Burgess will prove to be a huge success in Union. His fearless running with the ball and the way he throws himself into tackles are skills that will automatically translate to Union. His almost super human levels of strength and stamina will also stand him in good stead as he attempts to learn the intricacies of the game. Mastering the ruck and the maul will be big challenges for Burgess, but I’m sure we’ll see him tearing into the Aussies and the Kiwis at next years Rugby Union World Cup.
There’s also an excellent documentary about Sam Burgess and his brothers Luke, George and Tom all playing in the NRL for the same team, which you can watch below.