Top stars prepare to collide at Wembley

England's Sam Burgess
England's Sam Burgess
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THE ‘Big Hit’ moniker could not be more apt for the World Cup double-header at Wembley on Saturday.

The semi-finals day has long been marketed with that slogan and, given two of the protagonists on show, it is a perfect match.

Of course, England against New Zealand is likely to be seismic itself but the play within the play – Sam Burgess v Sonny Bill Williams – is the collision course that has everyone licking their lips.

Burgess, England’s hulking forward from Dewsbury who is now feted like a king in Sydney, against SBW, a similarly brute force whose name is synonymous with success in three different sports.

If the respective coaches play ball, the two charging colossus will even line up against each other in direct opposition at second-row, Burgess thundering down England’s left against a man who has been causing havoc all tournament through the Kiwis’ right-hand channel.

Big Hit? It’s their calling card. And they can both play a bit too.

As the season draws to its eventual conclusion – the victors going on to, in all likelihood, play Australia in the World Cup final a week on Saturday – this meeting of two powerhouses will also rekindle memories of the campaign’s opening night.

Back then, South Sydney’s Burgess trampled all over Williams as the global superstar tried making his very first tackle since arriving back from life as an All Black – via a lucrative spell in Japanese rugby union – with Sydney Roosters.

The Australian press lapped it up as the prodigal son, who had walked out on Canterbury Bulldogs for a big payday at Toulon RU in 2008, made his much-hyped return to the NRL.

Admittedly, Williams had the last laugh, inspiring Roosters to a Grand Final success six months later after also earlier helping deny Burgess’s Rabbitohs the minor premiership in dramatic fashion.

But will Saturday be the unexpected final chapter of a narrative that has lasted the course of an entire season?

“You guys kind of like that stuff,” smiled Burgess, who, at 24, is four years younger than his foe.

“To me, no, and I guess to Sonny it’s the same as well.

“I’ll just go out and do my job I have to do for the team and whatever happens out there…

“He’s a very good one of 17, but I won’t be going out of my way or anything (to find him).

“I’ll just go out and do my job for England.

“People always ask me that question (are you looking forward to playing SBW?).

“I guess it’s just another game. Sonny’s a great player, he’s had a great tournament and you always enjoy playing against the best players.

“It’s not just necessarily looking forward to playing against Sonny, it’s looking forward to going up against a great Kiwi side really.

“Whether we come up in contact or not I don’t know. There’s certainly respect there and it’ll be a great game.”

Although the affable Yorkshireman has gained celebrity status in Sydney following his move from Bradford Bulls in 2010, his profile is comparatively dwarfed by that of Williams, who is aiming to become the first player to win a World Cup in both codes and is also the reigning undefeated New Zealand heavyweight boxing champion.

Has Burgess got to know him since his return to Sydney?

“A little bit, yes,” he said.

“He’s a very nice, humble guy. He’s very respectful and a great athlete.

“I’ve certainly got a lot of respect for Sonny.

“He’s an impressive human being. I think the way he controls himself on and off the field and a lot of the stuff people don’t see of him, he’s a credit to himself, New Zealand the public he plays for in Australia.

“Once you get on the field it’s a competitive game and I guess we’ll both get stuck in.

“But he’s great for the game, great for the World Cup and it’ll be tough to control him this week but we’ll look forward to that challenge.”

Williams, who caused a stir when backtracking on his initial decision that he would be unavailable for the Kiwis, has certainly delivered with a series of virtuoso displays, his off-load ability and powerful carrying augmenting an already impressive New Zealand side.

Burgess, though, tends to thrive against these opponents; his hit on the formidable Fuifui Moimoi when debuting for Great Britain at just 19 gained as many column inches then as this current duel is now.

“That’s a long time ago,” he recalled, about Great Britain’s 2007 whitewash of the Kiwis.

“I was a young kid back then. It was a great time in my career but both teams have changed a lot.

“You never forget your debut but it’s a whole new game for us on Saturday.”

For all the SBW fanfare, Burgess sees his South Sydney team-mate Isaac Luke as potentially being England’s most dangerous foe, the diminutive hooker who has been cutting sides open with his rapier thrusts.

“He really gets them going,” says Burgess, ahead of what will be his first visit to the new Wembley.

The last time he was there was as a 10-year-old with his family watching Leeds Rhinos defeat London Broncos in the 1999 Challenge Cup final, his younger sibling George correctly predicting four-try Leroy Rivett would win man-of-the-match.

It is hard to call who will come out on top this Saturday.

However, South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson, who helped drag Hull FC out of the mire in 1999, believes Burgess – equally adept at prop, second-row or loose – could not only be the best English forward to grace the Australian game but might yet go on to be the best forward the entire sport has ever seen. Praise indeed.

Come Wembley, though, SBW will look to remind everyone there are others capable of reaching such heights.