Arise Sir Sam, Lord of Dewsbury, King of Sydney

Coming in a mess, going out in style

Noel Gallagher, Do You Know What I Mean

When it comes to going out in style, Sam Burgess has just set the bar very, very high. From Slammin’ Sam’s last game, the facts tell one hell of a story:

  • Game time: 80 minutes
  • Game time with a fractured cheek bone that requires surgery: 79 minutes 50 seconds
  • Carries: 22
  • Metres: 195
  • Tackles: 30

And his performance made him the first Pom (in fact the first non Aussie) to win the Clive Churchill Medal. When you think of the greats who have played in Australia from these shores – Mal Reilly, Ellery Hanely, Adrian Morley – he’s planted his flag at the top of a seriously high mountain.

Back to the start

The reason the Oasis lyric springs to mind is because of the early days of the Burgess boys in Australia. While Morley had changed a few minds towards English forwards, if a coach told someone in the NRL they “played like an English forward” it was usually a sign that you should find the location of the nearest job centre.

Burgess came with a big reputation and the seal of approval from Russell Crowe. There were still plenty of whispers that he’d only been signed for his good looks and to raise the profile of the Bunnies in England.
What Burgess has done in the NRL, he has done it the hard way. He’s played big minutes, made some monstrous hits and lead the forward pack for South Sydney while never taken a backward step. Initially he earned respect as a bloke who could compete, then he started pulling up trees and being spoken of as one of the best in the competition. Now, he’s undoubtedly the best forward in the game. Well, until the final whistle he was.

Going out in style

If Sam had played 80 minutes, with 22 carries for 195 metres – the most by a Bunnies player – and 30 tackles, he would’ve been lauded as a great player and signed off his time Down Under as a winner.

But he broke his cheek bone with the first run of the game and did all of the above in serious pain. From the moment he clashed heads with James Graham (another Englishman who was probably in the running for the Medal until the last 10 minutes) he knew he’d bust himself. As he told the Sydney Morning Herald, “I knew I’d broke it straight away. The side of my face just felt numb. My head was a little bit dizzy and I had a bit of blurred vision.”

Tellingly, he then added, “there was not a chance I was missing out”.

Becoming a legend

So, travelling half way around the world, taking on the best in their own back yard, smashing them to bits, becoming the best forward in the world, winning the Grand Final and taking the man of the match award is a decent starting point for being called a legend of the game.

But rugby league is a game where many have overcome adversity to win team and personal awards and never had the term “legend” bestowed upon them. Sam was running pretty close and then Brad ‘Freddie’ Fittler approached him at half time with a mic to see how he was feeling.

Freddie: How’s the cheekbone mate?
Sam: What?
Freddie: How’s the cheekbone?
Sam: It’s fucked. It’s gone
Freddie: Good one

Gold TV. Absolute gold. Anyone doubting his status as a legend should just watch the clip below. Maybe just check the kids aren’t about first.

Where next?

The big lad is now off for surgery on his face while everyone at Bath RU starts to work out how much they’ll have to pay him before he picks up a ball in anger. He’s almost certainly ruined his chances of playing in the world cup next year as he’s now not likely to play before Christmas.

But, where Sam Burgess is concerned, you never, ever say never. This boy has talent, he’s got physical attributes to make the opposition cry and he’s got a single-minded determination to be a winner. I’m gutted to see him taking the RFU’s shilling, but I wish him all the best in ripping up the 15 man game.


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