Sam Burgess has been back in the UK for three months, and with less than three weeks until the start of the Super League season, he’s now firmly settled into life as Warrington Wolves’ head coach.
The Wolves – who begin the 2024 season away against Catalans Dragons on February 17 – took a punt when they appointed Burgess, a man unproven in the coaching game, albeit also a man who stood the test of time Down Under.
Burgess only needed 76 Super League appearances to earn himself a crack at the NRL during his playing days, with South Sydney Rabbitohs providing him the opportunity in the Southern Hemisphere ahead of the 2010 campaign.
Barring a short stint back in England and in rugby union with Bath, the best part of a decade was spent with the Rabbitohs, winning the 2014 NRL Grand Final there alongside brother Tom.
The 35-year-old also stuck around with the Rabbitohs, joining their coaching staff, and having got to know the ins and outs of his new role at Warrington, he believes the two clubs are akin to one another.
Warrington Wolves boss Sam Burgess highlights parallels with South Sydney Rabbitohs
Before Burgess arrived, the Rabbitohs hadn’t won a Premiership Down Under since 1971, and had never been involved in a Grand Final since the NRL was formed in 1998.
Likewise, Warrington are yet to win a Super League Grand Final, losing out at Old Trafford on four occasions. The Wire were last the kings of England in 1955.
Speaking to the press – including Love Rugby League – at the Wolves’ media day earlier this week, Burgess said: “There are a lot of similarities, there are a lot of parallels.
“I felt a weight of expectation as a player. I was captain at Souths, I was captain at the time, a senior player, and there is no greater pressure, I’ll give you that.
“Especially over there in the NRL, it’s the number one sport in the country, so there is a pressure that comes with that and it’s a very similar pressure coming over here.
“I think that experience as a player will help me on the right path here, so I guess all decisions I made as a player and as a young coach, they will all help me in the way I want to go.
“Essentially I’ve just got to come and do it now, enjoy what I’m doing and it sounds cliché, but take it a week at a time and not think about the bigger picture and prizes at the end. I’ll just focus on getting better today.
“From what I watched of Warrington last year, I saw a great team that probably needed a bit of direction. That’s not saying anything about the previous coaches, I’m talking just a few things that I could see that could make them better, very small changes.
“Now I’ve had them for three months, we’ve put some of those small changes in, so now it’s just whether we can sustain them and keep them going.”
New Warrington chief Burgess discusses team’s cohesion as he embraces opportunity to establish fine line between being a friend and being a coach
Dewsbury-born Burgess has made no secret of the fact that he’s gleaned tips and tricks from former boss Wayne Bennett, a legend of the game.
Bennett – who has now moved on to the Dolphins – has coached a wealth of teams in over 1,000 competitive games, in both hemispheres.
And it’s not just on the pitch where Burgess has picked things up, but off it too, as he detailed: “Wayne is twice my age, but he’s best mates with all the players.
“A lot of coaches do say that (you shouldn’t be), but I love being mates with the players. We have a very professional relationship on the field and between moments, when it’s business time, it’s business, but socially, I’m mates with them too.
“We talk about life, football, social life, everything. We’ll play golf together and play darts together. I’ve had some other great coaches who I’ve spent time with, had a beer together and dinner together, and our families are close.
“I think it’s really important that I surround myself around the team and I try to be myself rather than trying to be a coach. I stay as myself and I’m true to the method I’ve brought in, and I just don’t waver on that line.
“I’m pretty straight with it the whole time, so I’m really enjoying the balance I’ve got at the moment. There’s going to be times where I’m going to have to be pretty direct with my social time with them, but it’s fine, I enjoy the balance.”
England’s ‘future captain’ is in the Warrington Wolves camp, insists Burgess
As well as his successes at club level, Burgess also forged out a sterling career on the international front, becoming a Great Britain & England legend.
Featuring 25 times for the latter, including in two World Cups, there are only 13 men who have made more England appearances than the ex-forward at the time of writing.
And after a pre-season at Warrington which has included a weekend in the company of former UK Special Forces soldier Ant Middleton, once of TV series ‘SAS: Who Dares Wins’, Burgess believes a future England captain is in his ranks.
Discussing his own captaincy options for 2024, the Wire chief said: “Stef (Ratchford)‘s the captain of the club, he has been for a long time. I’m pretty lucky that I’ve got the England captain (George Williams) in the team as well, so we aren’t short of captains.
“Stef whilst he’s in the team, he’ll be captain, and if he’s not there, then it’s going to be George. I’ve not spoken to George about that, but that’s just natural progression if he’s the England captain.
“We’ve got some really dominant voices which is good, and I’ve been surprised with Danny Walker, I think he’s a future captain, not just at this club, but I think he’s a potential leader for his country. I think he’s that good, he can be a future England captain.
“I’m lucky in the sense that I’ve got some very experienced players. The captain is just a title, the players will follow who they want to follow and they often don’t follow the title, they follow the person.
“We’re lucky we’ve got some really dynamic guys and positions of leadership, so whoever has got the captaincy here, it doesn’t really matter.”