Inside the Deal: How Huddersfield Giants secured the signing of Tom Burgess

Aaron Bower
Tom Burgess Huddersfield Giants Alamy

Tom Burgess will join Huddersfield Giants on a three-year deal from 2025 - Alamy

It is rare that a transfer takes everyone by surprise in rugby league these days – but that was exactly the feeling when Huddersfield Giants confirmed on Wednesday that they had convinced England prop Tom Burgess to return to Super League with them in 2025.

Burgess has signed a three-year deal with the Giants, a major acquisition for the club – even if it is still 12 months until he finishes his stellar NRL career with South Sydney Rabbitohs. His future seemed uncertain even as recently as a fortnight ago, with the prop admitting he would be open to an extension in Australia, and his brother Sam also saying he’d like to lure him back to Super League with Warrington Wolves.

But in the end, a move which stunned everyone happened in the space of just a few short weeks. This is the inside story of the deal that ensured Burgess will return to England next year with a club few expected him to sign for.

“I just told the club to go and have a crack”

It started, somewhat bizarrely, with a cursory glance at the media reports circulating in Australia over Burgess’ future. He had made no secret of the fact he was not only off-contract at the end of this year, but open-minded about the future. Huddersfield were one of several clubs put on alert around the time of the last Rugby League World Cup in 2022, when Burgess hinted at a return to Super League one day.

No strangers to making an ambitious play for players, the Giants felt now was the moment to make a play. There were plenty of other clubs sniffing, but as Giants coach Ian Watson explains to Love Rugby League: “I just told the club to go and have a crack, it’s worth a shot to go after him. If he says no, he says no – we can then learn from that.”

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But Burgess did not say no. Instead, he intimated he was open to a remarkable switch to Huddersfield and talks moved at a rapid pace – over a matter of days.

“We knew he was coming off-contract,” Watson says. “I’d seen some press reports about Souths keeping him, Sam having a look at him and even a couple of other Super League clubs maybe having a look at him too.

“I knew for what we wanted to build at this club, he fit that perfectly. Although it’s for 12 months down the line, the whole thing is about building a legacy and he’s part of that. We feel we’ve got a young group of players but we have to put penthouse players in and around them and show them that this club is about bold ambition.”

The prospect of a three-year deal – Burgess will be 35 by the time that ends – was also significant in convincing him it was a move worth making. It offered his family protection: and crucially, the salary on the table made a difference, too.

“The numbers were just out of this world”

That is where Warrington came into the mix. Obviously, Burgess was in contact with older brother Sam: it is only a fortnight since the Wolves head coach admitted he would love to coach him at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.

But talks never really developed too far once it became clear that Huddersfield had tabled a monster deal. It was something Warrington weren’t prepared to match on two fronts: the length of the deal, and of course, the salary itself.

“Tom told me exactly where he was at and I had a perfect amount of time to counter-offer, but the numbers were just out of this world,” Sam Burgess admitted.

“I’ve got to put my head coach’s hat on, it wouldn’t have been the right thing for the club and with the salary cap as it is, I can’t do too much with it in the near future. I’ve got to be responsible in that respect. It’s the first time I couldn’t afford my younger brother.

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“But I have to be responsible for Warrington as a club. Huddersfield came with a three-year deal and we just weren’t there. Financially we were way off where they were, but that’s the nature of the beast.”

Watson and Burgess’ existing relationship

The significance and size of the package Huddersfield tabled was influential in shaping Burgess’ decision – but so too was his relationship with Giants coach Watson.

The pair worked together during Great Britain’s tour of the southern hemisphere in 2019 and even though Burgess’ career and reputation speaks for itself, Watson was heartened he was a good fit for the long-term vision he is trying to build at the John Smith’s Stadium after a disappointing 2023.

“That was huge for me, knowing Tom already and having worked with him,” Watson said.

“Just seeing what he’s like in and around a rugby environment, I know he’ll fit the environment. We would never just go out and sign someone without doing our homework on them, irrespective of how big a name they are: which Tom obviously is.

“If you’re a young player in this squad, you’ve now got the opportunity to play with a real leader in the world game and that helps sell the club to these lads. It explains where we want them to go and the journey we want to go on.”

And to the amazement of many – some at the Giants included, who felt their initial approach was purely speculative – they were able to convince Burgess to sign. He will play just as big a role off the pitch as well as on it; their marquee name in more ways than one.

Few expected it even as recently as just a week or so ago. Burgess was always tipped to come home in 2025: but not with Huddersfield.

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