Burgess planning to make ‘home’ bow in style against St Helens

IT is one of those strange peculiarities which sometimes occur in sport that England prop George Burgess, a product of Bradford Bulls’ academy, is still yet to play a senior club game in his own land.

England's George Burgess is tackled by Australia's Cooper Cronk and Greg Bird (right) during the 2013 World Cup match at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.

That is despite the hulking Yorkshireman being renowned as one of the world’s top forwards with eight international caps to his name already and a National Rugby League Grand Final winners’ ring in his possession, too.

That will all change tomorrow evening when the 22-year-old finally gets to experience the thrill he always envisaged as a child.

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Furthermore, Burgess has a suitably worthy occasion to mark the feat – playing with South Sydney Rabbitohs against St Helens at a sold-out Langtree Park for the World Club Challenge.

“I grew up watching Super League and always wanted to play Super League but never got the chance before moving to Australia,” he explained, having followed his famous brother Sam from Odsal to South Sydney at the end of 2011 when just 19.

“So, it’s brilliant to come back here now and play club rugby against last year’s Premiership-winning side.

“It’s a great opportunity for me and all my family will be out there watching so it is pretty special.

“I’ve caught up with some of the old Bradford guys like Nick Scruton, Jamie Langley and James Donaldson but it’s been a bit of a busy schedule this week.

“We’ve not had much time off. Hopefully, I’ll speak to a few more after the game on Sunday. But the main aim is to win this trophy.”

Of course, where there were once four Burgess boys wearing the famous red and green colours of Souths, now there are just two – George and twin-brother Tom, who joined in 2012 after opting to first graduate with Bradford and serve a couple of seasons in Super League.

Sam, having defied a fractured cheekbone and eye socket to inspire the Rabbitohs to their first Grand Final win in 43 years last October, has moved on to the riches of rugby union with Bath.

Luke, meanwhile, the eldest of the Dewsbury-born siblings at 28, has switched to Manly Sea Eagles, a move the club insists is not linked to his infamous arrest in Arizona last December following an alcohol-fuelled night out after an altitude training camp.

Admittedly Luke – the only one of the quartet not to feature in Souths’ epic win over champions Canterbury Bulldogs to take the title – had become more of a peripheral figure in Michael Maguire’s first-team plans.

However, with Sam gone, too, much is now expected of George although he has no plans to suddenly become the ‘No1 Burgess’.

“I don’t think that way to be honest,” said the big-striding prop, who stands at six-foot five-inches.

“I just try to stick to my job and take on a bit more of a leadership role – with a few older heads missing – but I feel like I’m ready to do that.

“It’s different every year. Teams change, players move on to new clubs and it’s hard to keep everyone together for any amount of time.

“But it’s pretty special what we’ve got this year – a different team, a new team and we’re looking forward to getting out there with the boys on Sunday and showing what it is about.”

With the likes of superstar full-back Greg Inglis, dazzling Kiwi hooker Issac Luke and Glenn Stewart, the gnarled New South Wales back-row signed after a lifetime at Manly, Souths are awash with talent as they feature in their maiden World Club Challenge, a competition expanded this year to include six teams from across the NRL and Super League.

However, whereas Souths are yet to start their own league campaign in Australia, St Helens are warmed up nicely, having delivered wins in their opening two domestic encounters against Catalans Dragons and Salford Red Devils.

With the likes of Samoan giant Mose Masoe and their own Dewsbury piece of granite – Alex Walmsley – Saints are confident of being able to add their third title after famous victories over Brisbane Broncos in 2001 and 2007.

“They have got a good pack and they’ll be up for it but so are we,” added Burgess.

“It will be a great clash and one you don’t want to miss.

“I know a few of their boys like Mark Flanagan pretty well and I try to watch a few games when I can.

“Obviously, St Helens are a top side – they didn’t win Super League by not being a good team – and we’ve definitely got a big job on our hands.

“James Roby at hooker is massive for them and one of their dangermen.

“He’s always been big for England and we missed him a bit in the Four Nations last year.”

Sam will drive north to watch the action, too, having played for Bath against Northampton this afternoon and last week been launched as the “face of” Canterbury’s latest line of clothing.

“He’s always fancied himself as a bit of a model,” joked George. “He’s taken to it pretty well.”

Whether his younger brother takes to leading this Souths pack around the field in his absence remains to be seen.

But there is no doubt he can take a big step towards doing just that with a typically robust display tomorrow night against the best Super League has to offer.

One thing is for sure, this Burgess boy has certainly waited long enough for the opportunity.