James Graham has hailed Warrington Wolves’ appointment of Sam Burgess as one which will not only benefit the club, but Super League in general, and believes they will now be contenders for a first-ever Grand Final win.
The Wire announced Burgess’ appointment earlier this week. He will take charge from 2024, filling the void left by Daryl Powell’s departure.
Having won their first eight games this season, things have taken a sharp downturn for Warrington, who are now on a losing streak of seven on the bounce in all competitions which has left them clinging on to a play-off spot as we enter the business end of the 2023 campaign.
34-year-old Burgess may well take over a club who fail to make the top six, and this will be his first senior head coach role in the game, but Graham – who represented England alongside the incoming Wire boss – believes the move is the right one.
James Graham: Sam Burgess will ‘generate the interest that Super League needs’
Graham himself won two Grand Finals over the course of a 17-year professional career. Both came with hometown club St Helens, the second in 2020 against Wigan Warriors his last game before retiring.
Like Burgess, he spent a large chunk of his career over in Australia, playing for Canterbury Bulldogs as well as St George Illawarra down under.
And now involved in the world of media, Graham spoke about Dewsbury-born Burgess’ move back to England on his ‘The Bye Round Podcast’. He said: “I can’t understate just how big this is for the Super League to get one of the brightest up and coming English coaches. He’s a legend in rugby league, and he made an impact in rugby union too.
“I just love this man’s drive, I spoke to him on the phone a couple of days ago just before it was announced, and honestly the drive in this person is just insane. He came over here (Australia) as a 20-year-old, that shows drive and ambition. Then he makes a name for himself here, dominates as a young English kid which is incredibly difficult to do, and wins the Grand Final.
“He backed himself to go over to rugby union and made the English test team, and from what I’m seeing he did really well. He’s got drive, ambition and is willing to go above and beyond.
“It’s going to generate headlines, and it already has. It’ll generate interest that the Super League needs. The sporting landscape and stage is saturated at the moment with many other sports looking to globalise and looking to go into that British market.
“Unfortunately, rugby league is stuck to the M62 corridor in the north of England, or at least a lot of it is. Obviously, you’ve got representation in terms of Catalans [Dragons] who are doing so well, but it needs to grow because it’s getting swamped. Someone like Sam Burgess coming in is massive.”
Graham on prospect of success for Sam Burgess at Warrington
Maghull-born Graham, the 2008 Man of Steel, retired having made close to 250 appearances for Saints, the club that he supported as a child.
The former prop – affectionately nicknamed ‘Jammer’ – is expecting big things for Burgess just up the road from his hometown club, and admits he’s worried Warrington will become contenders.
On Burgess, Graham said: “He’s got drive, ambition, and he’s willing to go above and beyond. Now he’s taken up this role at Warrington, for me as a St Helens fan, I’m sh*tting myself.
“I’m really worried that he’s going to deliver them a Premiership (Grand Final win), and that St Helens fans won’t be able to sing ‘it’s always your year’ to them anymore because it might actually be with him going there.
“I’m delighted for him though, he’ll go over there which will be great for his experience, and I don’t think it will be long before we see him in an NRL head coaching position.”
“He makes you want to run through brick walls”
As part of Burgess’ job heading to the HJS, he’ll be tasked with aiding the recruitment for his pack in 2024.
Lachlan Fitzgibbon has already been confirmed as moving over to the Wire from the NRL, and ex-Saint Graham believes whoever the incoming boss has at his disposal will be coached by one of the best motivators in the game.
Sharing a story about his former international teammate, Graham added: “He makes you want to run through brick walls. My career all sort of blurs into one, and there’s not many things that stand out, but I can remember playing a test match for England against the Kiwis, I think it was in the Four Nations, and I’d hurt my knee.
“I was limping around, it was medial which I didn’t know at the time, but he just looked at me and said ‘Jammer, I need you’. Because of that, I just cracked on through it. I couldn’t play the following week, or the week after, but I persevered because of him and him saying that to me.
“He has the ability to do that, he did that for me, and his knowledge is incredible. That knowledge probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves because he brings so much in terms of that all action style.
“He’s an incredibly intelligent man, he’s been under some great coaches as well, and he’ll have learned from them. He’ll have his own style, but the biggest thing is that he gets it. He gets what it’s like to be a player, he’s not that far removed from them.”