The Rugby League world woke up to news this morning that Sam Burgess has moved to Bath Rugby Union on a 3 year deal after South Sydney accepted a £500,000 transfer fee to release arguably the best forward in world rugby.
There has been plenty of outcry and disappointment on the League side of the fence and rightly so, as the game has lost one of its golden boys to our rival organisation. It just goes to show that the power and influence of Union and its comprehensive international calendar still cannot be underestimated despite the influx of cash that the NRL is now reaping.
So while England Rugby League are still yet to find out where they will play their next game, Slammin’ Sam already has eyes on playing in another home World Cup. The last time he took to the field, Burgess gave an outstanding performance for his country in one of the best games of rugby in living memory in front of a huge and vociferous crowd at Wembley. No wonder he wants more of that, and Union can pretty much guarantee him it.
Whether he becomes the next cross code superstar remains to be seen however. He is committed to playing for South Sydney in 2014 before making the immediate switch in October, where he will spend the cold English winter getting up to speed with his new code before hopefully taking to the field at Twickers next September. Sam undoubtedly has all the attributes to achieve anything he wants to, but after nearly 20 months straight playing top level rugby without a break, can his shoulders stand up to that sort of punishment?
I for one hope that Burgess is a huge success in the other code, as it will be another feather in the flatcap for League’s junior development systems and their proven ability to produce outstanding rugby talent. In their World Cup England’s sweet chariot could potentially be powered by Burgess, Joel Tomkins, Chris Ashton and Kyle Eastmond. Even their current golden boy Owen Farrell naturally started out playing League, and former League talent like George Ford and Stephen Myler aren’t far away from the picture which is all overseen by a League legend in Andy Farrell.
Now as a teenage rugby player who dreams of making it big, which code would you rather hone your skills in?
The question is how does League stop Union from cherry picking its best talent? The short answer is it can’t, until it can produce a similarly comprehensive international calendar that can provide our stars with well-deserved notoriety and success and along with it, money. Sure the NRL is now loaded, but it still has a lot to learn commercially from Union and its glamorous profile. Thanks to The Sun’s Rugby League writer Gary Carter I learned today that Burgess’ cross code inspiration Sonny Bill Williams earns a staggering 90% less from his sponsorship with adidas when he is turning out for the Roosters and the Kiwis rather than the All Blacks. Despite that, SBW still opted to play another season of League before switching codes for their World Cup. To me that is a pretty strong indication of just how good our sport is on the field.
But we all know that anyway, and we shouldn’t have to keep reminding ourselves of the fact somewhat insecurely. League will carry on producing world-class talent; the trick is just learning how to keep hold of it!