Sam Burgess Switches Code

So this is what it has come to. The biggest star in the game has switched sides to try his hand at Union. Again. It all sounds a little too familiar, with the story having the echo of Sonny Bill Williams’ move to *the other side* a few years ago.

A Strange Move

I’ve written recently that the move to Union is strange for Sam. Not because he wants to give it a go, get a huge pay rise or sample the international game, it’s just the timing. Burgess will play the NRL season and then move to Bath in October time. England have the autumn internationals in November, which he has no chance of playing in, followed by the 6 Nations starting in Feburary.

England coach Stuart Lancaster has promised no short cuts into the national set up – quite right too – so in a little over three months Sam has to become the first choice at his club and one of the best few players in his new position to force his way into the national set up. That’s a tall order. Given a full season at the game, with a fair tail wind, there’s a chance Burgess will be one of the best players in the English competition, especially if he’s playing at centre.

A New Position

Lancaster has already said he wants Sam to play in the centre, but as the RFU hasn’t funded the move, he doesn’t have much say in that decision. He’s known as a coach with good club contacts, so might be able to influence, but if Bath want him as a flanker, that’s what he will be.

Personally, I’d see him in the backs, but to get into the England set up, he’d need to oust Lions Brad Barritt and Manu Tulagi, current centre partnership Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell and get in front of the injured Joel Tomkins – another ex league star who took a while to find his feet but is well on the England radar.

Again, a tough act, but something Sam easily has the talent to do, given time to settle.


Anyone who saw Sam’s performances in the World Cup, or the NRL over the last few years, will be excited to watch him play union. He will destroy teams and add a new dimension to whoever he plays for.

League fans may remain sceptical until he’s proven his ability to adapt. We all have memories of other great league players – Andy Farrell and Iestyn Harris – being fast tracked into the national sides with farcical consequences.

NRL’s Problem

Sometimes listening to NRL fans and commentators talking about Super League, you’d understand why we can’t keep hold of our best talent: it’s a tin-pot league, played in depressing northern towns in front of sparse crowds. Why wouldn’t players want to go and live in Sydney and live on the beach for a few extra quid?

But this isn’t just a problem for Super League any more. When the NRL keeps losing its biggest stars to union, the NRL will have to start taking notice. For a start, the clubs could start to take the international game seriously – support the RLIF, set a decent calendar and stop taking all the best players from the developing nations would be a start.

More controversially, they could consider changes to the Origin series. Sam Burgess wasn’t the first NRL star who doesn’t qualify for the Origin series to wonder aloud about playing in the games. Look at the reasons why the players leave. Money is a factor, but most cite the desire to play on the biggest stage in front of huge crowds in games that matter. That’s the Origin, right there.

Now, I know it would take a huge change for the game to add another team to the Origin series or accept foreign players based on where their team is based, but if the biggest stars keep turning their back on the money and lifestyle of the NRL, then they need to start again with a blank sheet of paper.

The Future

My gut feeling is that Sonny Bill has blazed a trail for league players now. He showed that with skill and determination (ok, and being a big unit too) it’s possible to switch between the codes and become a better player.

Sam Burgess is only 25. He’s the biggest star in the NRL, England’s best player and now he’s moving to union. Whether he makes the 2015 World Cup or not, he can play a few 6 Nations tournaments, try to get into Olympic sevens team – the biggest stage of all – and turn out in the 2019 World Cup before coming back to Super League with three or four years left to give and an obscene pile of cash in the bank.

Like or not, that’s not a bad career for a Dewsbury lad.

Sam Burgess rugby

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