HUDDERSFIELD Giants coach Paul Anderson last night admitted Sam Burgess’s move to rugby union is a “massive” loss for the sport, but conceded he does not know the solution to the player-drain.
One of Super League’s big concerns recently has been the departure of its most exciting stars – such as England internationals Sam Tomkins and James Graham – to the Australian-based NRL where the salary cap is far higher.
However, Burgess’s completed £500,000 switch from South Sydney to Bath shows that the riches in union are greater still.
The worst-kept secret in the sport was confirmed yesterday when the Premiership side revealed the imposing forward would join them at the end of the NRL season in October on a three-year deal.
England coach Steve McNamara, who gave the Yorkshireman his debut when at Bradford Bulls in 2006, described the 25-year-old as “the jewel in the crown of rugby league” and few would argue.
There has been talk of a “marquee” player allowance on the Super League salary cap to allow clubs to compete for the signature of players such as Burgess, who is believed to be earning around £400,000 a year at Bath plus a raft of expected sponsorship deals to come.
The cap in Super League is currently £1.8m for an entire squad, compared to £5m from next season in the Premiership, highlighting the vast discrepancies in earning potential for players.
Anderson, the ex-Great Britain prop who led Huddersfield to the League Leaders’ Shield last year, admitted: “That’s the thing, does something have to be done? “What the answer is I don’t know, though.
“People keep talking about marquee signing allowances. Is that something that could come in? I’m not sure. Is there the money there to do it?
“It’s alright having a marquee allowance when you’re scraping the piggy bank to be able to pay for it.
“Then you have to borrow money to pay for that – which you haven’t got – and you know you are never going to be able to repay.
“The Rugby (Football) League is stable as they are and making sure that clubs are solvent is probably more important than losing a player here or there.
“That said, Sam Burgess is a massive loss. Whether he was at Bradford, Souths or playing for England, when he wasn’t there you knew it.
“Someone always filled his boots and always will, but you miss great players when they are not there and Burgess is a great player.
“If he takes the attitude of how we’ve seen him play in the World Cup for England to rugby union then he’ll be a success.”
Dewsbury-born Burgess was, indeed, stunning in that competition and he hopes to be able to make the switch to union quickly enough to compete in their event here in 2015.
That remains to be seen given the short time frame, but few would put it past the hulking forward who has, initially, been talked of as an inside centre in the 15-man game.
Burgess, who had been viewed by many as the next England RL captain when Kevin Sinfield retires, has been criticised by many for making the move.
But Anderson said: “With the finances involved, why wouldn’t you do it?
“I know where I’d be if it was me. He’s only got the one life, hasn’t he?
“Go and enjoy it and make sure he does the right thing for him and his family.
“The numbers involved are like telephone numbers, aren’t they?”
Burgess, who moved to Souths at the end of 2009, said: “With 2015 being a Rugby World Cup, it was an opportunity I had to pursue. I can’t wait to get my head down and start learning the game.
“This has been a tough decision for me to make, as I’ve loved my time in Sydney with the Rabbitohs.
“However, I’m very excited about the challenge that this move offers me.
“An opportunity presented itself to head back home to England and to pursue a chance to represent my country in two different sports.”
Bath have bought out the remaining two years of his deal with Souths – the NRL club have the first and only option if he returns to the code – and they will have control of the player given the RFU have not invested in the deal.
Bath head coach Mike Ford, the former Castleford and Great Britain scrum-half, said: “I’ve known Sam since his rugby league days in England and he is an exceptionally talented athlete.
“It’s a tough ask (playing at the World Cup) in my opinion.
“He’s got to play really well, train very well and get into the Bath first team first and foremost. Then he has to play consistently well in the Premiership.
“He’s a good footballer and is intelligent. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did, but it’s a tough ask.”
While McNamara rued the “huge” loss to rugby league, union’s England coach Stuart Lancaster said Burgess’s carrying game will be “easily transferable” and a “great asset.”