AS much as it would be marvellous to round off this rugby league calendar year with the sight of Sam Burgess running out for England at Wigan rather than Twickenham, I am glad common sense has prevailed and that won’t happen.
It would have been so easy for Steve McNamara, possessing a vacant spot given his squad is down to 23 from 24 following Sam Tomkins’s pre-series withdrawal due to injury, to parachute the returning hero straight into the third Test against the Kiwis.
But we have read that word “parachute” somewhere before haven’t we?
That is the word everyone used to describe the way in which Stuart Lancaster, England’s rugby union head coach, hurriedly dropped Burgess into his World Cup squad. We all know how that ended.
Some players had their noses put out of joint, not least Luther Burrell, the centre from Huddersfield who had on more than one occasion – in every Six Nations game for the last two years, in fact – proved his worthiness for that global tournament only to be dropped for his fellow Tyke’s arrival as an obvious rookie.
As much as anyone might argue otherwise, the stakes are not as high for any of the current England rugby league team who may have their eyes on a place in the 17 next weekend.
But still, it would be irresponsible and unfair to deny someone a shot in what, depending on today’s result, could be a crucial decider or a chance to inflict a whitewash.
A player could have played all three games so far this autumn or, alternatively, spent more than four weeks in camp waiting for a chance. And, let’s not forget, there are plenty of the latter – six players are still judiciously carrying out their training, patiently awaiting the nod: Leroy Cudjoe, Jermaine McGillvary, Luke Gale, Ben Westwood, Ben Currie and Matty Smith.
So, it was pleasing to hear McNamara confirm that Burgess won’t be considered until 2016 when he is fully back in the bosom of South Sydney and, hopefully, doing what he does best.
It does whet the appetite, though, ahead of next year’s Four Nations. Granted, it is all too easy to get excited about England’s chances following so many false dawns in recent years, but if they can seal this series against New Zealand after an impressive hour in the first Test at Hull, the optimism will build.
Given there are two Burgess brothers to come back into the fray – George is absent due to surgery – plus the expected arrival on the international scene of Alex Walmsley, another storming prop, an already mighty pack is set to be bursting at the seams with sheer talent.
True, England have never been short of forward options in recent years, and the perennial question remains: has McNamara got the half-backs to threaten Australia and New Zealand’s stranglehold on silverware? George Williams has shown plenty of promise so far and hopefully the Wigan youngster will improve further in London if selected this afternoon to prove his worth.
But, given the continued lack of international fixtures, it is important to see other options, too, and so it would be great – win, lose or draw today – to see Gale, the Castleford Tigers No 7, get an opportunity at some point in the next week.
That would be worthwhile; sticking ‘Slammin Sam’ in there would just be a PR stunt that the game does not even now need after all the publicity of recent days.