It is official: Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Sam Burgess will take to the field on Saturday after being named as part of the South Sydney Rabbitohs second row for their game against the Gold Coast Titans.
Much has been made of the return of Sam Burgess from England where he spent a year playing rugby union. As a crowd favorite, when the news broke that he was returning it was cause for celebration – but questions remain over the impact he will have on the Rabbitohs and whether or not he’ll be the force that he was previously in the NRL.
Now that he is going to play in what will be the final pre-season game for the Rabbitohs, many hope that some of those questions will be answered. That being said, it is worth tempering expectations, at least initially – as Burgess’ role in the game is as much about building up his own fitness as much as anything else.
Counting on the ‘Sam Burgess Factor’
Every Rabbitoh fan remembers the last time Burgess appeared for them, in the 2014 NRL Grand Final. In that game he epitomised everything that the fans, coaches and players loved about him – as he continued to play on and lead his side all the way to their first Premiership in 43 years, despite suffering a fractured a cheekbone early on in the proceedings.
That ‘Sam Burgess factor’ is what the club and the fans are counting on to make all the difference. As an athlete and a leader, he has proved that he has the qualities that are needed to make a difference – but the real question is: Will it be enough?
Although Burgess’ return is big, huge even, the Rabbitohs enter the season having lost Ben Te’o and Dylan Walker. While Burgess will readily step into the role of the former, the loss of the latter may prove to be telling.
As much as the Sam Burgess factor could be exactly what the club needs, it can be argued that they will need more than that if they are to harbor their hopes of reaching (and winning) the Grand Final once more.
On top of the question marks over the team in general, there are other concerns about the player himself. Yes – Sam Burgess has been a force to be reckoned with in the past, but is he still the player that he was or has his somewhat muted run in the rugby union changed him?
It should be noted that despite his early departure from rugby union, he did show promise throughout his tenure there.
The upcoming game, while still a trial, will go a long way to dispel some of those questions – or amplify them, as the case may be. It will be the first hint as to whether Sam Burgess will be able to make the massive impact the team and fans expect him to have, and if you’re betting in Australia you will certainly want to keep a close eye on the odds over the coming weeks.