Sam Burgess played himself into the sport’s folklore by ignoring a suspected broken cheekbone in the first minute of yesterday’s National Rugby League Grand Final to inspire South Sydney Rabbitohs to a famous 30-6 win over Canterbury Bulldogs.
The ex-Bradford Bulls forward, who now moves to Bath rugby union, was injured in the opening tackle of the game following a shuddering collision with England colleague James Graham.
However, despite instantly knowing the severity of the problem, he stayed on for the entire 80 minutes to lead Russell Crowe’s Souths to a first title in 43 years
In doing so, Burgess became the first non-Australian to win the Clive Churchill medal for the man-of-the-match and he joins a small band of Yorkshiremen, including Castleford legends Mal Reilly and Kevin Ward who both won with Manly, to lift the league title Down Under.
He has been a revelation for Souths and an NRL superstar since leaving Odsal in a £200,000 deal in 2009, prompting Bath to persuade him to cross codes with the lure of playing for England in a home World Cup next year.
However, most people expect the 25-year-old to eventually return to Souths where his twin brothers George and Tom – elder sibling Luke was not picked – both featured heavily in yesterday’s final watched by a record crowd of 83,833 at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney.
Indeed, it was George’s sensational try in the 57th minute, following a barnstorming run from the prop when the scores had been locked at 6-6, that gave Souths a lead they would never relinquish.
Sam Burgess – whose battle with Graham had been hyped up all week in Sydney – was left in floods of tears after Greg Inglis completed the scoring in the penultimate minute as the enormity of the occasion dawned on him.
On the injury, which is likely to delay the start to his union career, he said: “It feels like I cracked my eye socket in the first attack, but I just played on adrenalin after that and my team-mates talked me through it.
“I’m sure it will hurt tomorrow, but I would do it all over again.
“It is a feeling you can’t replicate and I am thankful to play in this position.
“It’s a crazy feeling.
“It’s been a fantastic 12 months and what a way to finish it off.”
For a disconsolate Graham, however, it was a seventh Grand Final defeat.
He was a winner with St Helens in 2006 but was in the losing side five times in a row at Old Trafford before leaving for Australia and this NRL Grand Final loss was his second in three years.