EX-ENGLAND star Sam Burgess last night told his former international colleagues they have the chance to “start a new trend” by beating Australia in Melbourne.
The talismanic loose forward, voted as the RLIF International Player of the Year last week, starts preparations for life in rugby union when unveiled as a Bath player this morning.
However, having inspired South Sydney to their first Grand Final win in more than 40 years earlier this month and being such a hit in the NRL since leaving Bradford Bulls in 2009, he remains well placed to assess Sunday’s crucial Four Nations contest.
Great Britain have defeated Australia on away soil only three times since 1974. Neither Great Britain or England have won an international tournament since 1972, when the former lifted the World Cup in France.
Yet if England prosper this weekend they will reach the Four Nations showpiece and, incredibly, prevent their old foes from reaching the final of a major international tournament for the first time since 1954.
Pressure is on the world champions after their shock 30-12 home loss to New Zealand in Brisbane, which was preceded by England’s 32-26 win over Samoa.
Yorkshireman Burgess was in the crowd on Saturday and, just hours after landing in England yesterday, told The Yorkshire Post: “There is going to be pressure on Australia now and I actually think the Kiwis are certain favourites for the comp’.
“There’ll be pressure on both teams as England weren’t at their best either and certainly need some improvement.
“But there’s not many English players can say they’ve beaten Australia over there.
“This side can definitely do that and they are at an age where they could really go on and start a trend.
“They are pretty young and inexperienced but really talented and I’ll be cheering on from here come Sunday morning.”
Burgess scored eight tries in 15 Tests for England, including a memorable solo effort in the 2009 Four Nations final against the Kangaroos at Elland Road, but never overcame opponents who later became such fans of his abrasive, strong-running style.
He believes the fitness of captain Sean O’Loughlin is vital to England hopes now, the Wigan Warriors loose forward who missed the Samoa game with a groin injury and was not initially named in Steve McNamara’s 17 for Melbourne.
Burgess, 25, added: “They are waiting for him to get back and get a few sessions in later in the week, but I’d expect him to play.
“I think Lockers is key. He’ll add a bit of leadership in there and when the going gets tough, he will put his hand up for the team.
“Lockers always does and certainly adds some strength to the guys.
“Australia have brought some new faces in but are going to be stronger, too.
“They lost Greg Inglis at half-time last week and Daly Cherry-Evans before that so they played most of the game with 15 men.
“That makes a big difference in Test match rugby when it comes to your rotations.
“They’ve had an extra week together now which will help but England are the same and I do think they will both be better.
“That’s why it should be a great game.”
Burgess also expects his younger twin brothers – the 22-year-old props George and Tom who battled alongside him in Souths’ Grand Final glory – to make more of an impact against opponents they know so well from the NRL.
“I don’t think they were at their best against Samoa,” he said.
“They were good and strong but they can each still improve. I think they need to.
“Although they are still quite young they are almost senior within that side now.
“They have a bit of responsibility along with James Graham and I’m sure they’ll step up.”
Burgess was scheduled to be in Bath a couple of weeks ago but fractured his cheekbone and eye socket in the first tackle of Souths’ epic Grand Final and had to delay his arrival due to surgery.
Writing himself into the sport’s folklore, he famously ignored those sickening injuries suffered after just six seconds in Sydney to go on and win the Clive Churchill Medal as man-of-the-match.
Burgess, meanwhile, spent time in the England camp last week ahead of their Samoa opener and admits he would have loved to line-up with his old team-mates one more time.
But he added: “I wouldn’t have even been there if I’d not broken my cheekbone. I’d have been in Bath.
“It was just a bonus I suppose to be able to go to Brisbane, visit them in camp, present their shirts and actually watch that Test.
“I’m on to Bath now and really looking forward to getting going here.”
He is unsure yet when he will make his debut for the West Country club where he is expected to feature at centre and make a push to take on the Aussies again – only this time in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
“The cheek’s coming on all right,” he said
“The swelling’s gone down and almost gone.
“It’s on the road to recovery but we’ll take it slowly and see what the Bath medical staff say.
“It’s an exciting time.”