A DREAM leader and nightmare to play against, rugby league will be poorer without “superstar” Sam Burgess, says Great Britain captain James Graham.
Dual-code international Burgess, who was born in Dewsbury and began his career with Bradford Bulls, has announced his retirement, at the age of 30, due to a chronic shoulder injury.
One of a handful of Englishmen to achieve iconic status in Australia’s NRL, the former Test captain played 172 times for South Sydney Rabbitohs, either side of a brief and ill-fated stint in rugby union with Bath and England.
Graham, who plays for St George-Illawarra and was an NRL contemporary of Burgess, hailed him as “one of the competition’s biggest stars”.
He said: “From the game’s point of view, for England and Great Britain, he is a huge loss – and for the NRL.
“The game is going to be poorer for him not being there.”
He was phenomenal to play with, a true inspiration. He squeezed every ounce of effort and talent out of this playing group every time he played for us.James Graham on Sam Burgess
Assessing the impact made by Burgess as a team-mate and opponent, Graham recalled: “I can remember times when we were playing against the Kiwis and I hurt my knee and he said ‘mate, come on – we need you’.
“Because his voice and his presence carry so much weight, he managed to drag me through it.
“He was phenomenal to play with, a true inspiration.
“He squeezed every ounce of effort and talent out of this playing group every time he played for us.
“He was someone you just wanted to play alongside and be with.”
Opponents, however, will not be as sorry to see him hang up his boots. Graham added: “To play against, he was a nightmare, the way he carried the ball, the amount of effort you had to put in to tackle a person like that.
“He never went away, he played through pain and on the other side of it, without the ball, you were constantly looking where he might be because if he got you he didn’t miss.
“He was one of England and Great Britain’s greatest and one of the NRL’s greatest players of this generation.
“He is an international superstar, but still a lad from Yorkshire you can sit and have a beer with or a coffee with and chat about life.”
In a letter to South Sydney’s members and fans, Burgess admitted the decision to retire as one of the hardest of his life, but stressed it was “out of my hands”.
He revealed: “I am no longer able to be myself, day in, day out on the training field and consequently the playing field.”