Trying to make sense of the Sam Burgess conundrum

PITY poor old Mike Ford, for his job these days seems to consist mostly of having to deny Sam Burgess is on the verge of quitting Bath for a return to rugby league.
Ford, whose own league career included making over a century of appearances for both Oldham and Castleford, was at it again on Tuesday following the news Leeds Rhinos were the latest to declare an interest in securing the 26-year-old’s services should he become available.
In his position as Bath head coach, Ford has unwittingly found himself the media’s go-to man for comment on whether Burgess will return to his roots or stay in the 15-man code for at least the remainder of his three-year contract.
That is unlikely to change until the man himself decides one way or the other, although he is the only one who has yet to comment on the rumours that have been swirling in the wake of England’s dismal Rugby World Cup campaign.
It has been a surreal last few weeks ever since it emerged Burgess could be heading back South Sydney Rabbitohs, where he starred in their NRL title triumph last year prior to embarking on his union adventure.
Indeed, his possible rugby league comeback seems to have generated even more column inches and discussion than when Burgess’ move to Bath, whose owner Bruce Craig forked out £250,000 for his services, was first announced.
Craig will undoubtedly been eager to keep hold of a prized asset he forked out so much hard cash for, although few would blame Burgess if he decided to turn his back on union after the pillorying he received in the press after England’s World Cup exit.
For someone who only started one games – the defeat to Wales – and was a replacement in two others, the outrage directed at him could not have been much had he kicked Prince Harry up the arse and then had a picture of it blown up to 10’ x 10’ as a memento.
It is at this point your humble blogger should probably disclose he was reporting on the England-Wales game in his day job – yes, believe it or not some of us like union as well as league – and kept an eye on what Burgess was doing.
On a very basic level, it seemed he had been given two jobs that night in his role at inside centre: One was to keep quiet Wales number 12 Jamie Roberts, which he did effectively, and the other was to get the ball in hand, truck it up the middle and get over the gain line.
Burgess showed no misgivings in getting involved at the breakdown either and acquitted himself more than adequately there – let us not forget, it was England’s forwards who conceded most of their penalties there in that Wales loss.
Yet for some reason, it was Burgess who copped a sizeable proportion of the flak, perhaps due to many feeling the likes of Northampton Saints’ Luther Burrell or even fellow cross-coder and Bath team-mate Kyle Eastmond should have been given his squad spot in the first place.
In truth, Burgess has at the very least progressed as well as could be expected for someone who has switched from the top level of one code to the top level of another in such a relatively short space of time, no matter how gifted technically and physically they are.
But arguably his development has been hampered by the fact no-one in union has yet agreed whether his best position is at centre or in the back row.
Even from the early days, Ford saw Burgess’ long-term future in the back row and he made his bow in that position against Newcastle Falcons back in April.
England, however, have persisted with him in the backs and the debate will undoubtedly continue to rage if Burgess decides to stay with Bath.
It is difficult to think of anyone who would not welcome him back to league, be it with his siblings in Sydney or one of the several Super League clubs who would no doubt be keen to make him their marquee player who would not count under the salary cap.
Arguably, no English forward has won so many admirers in the NRL since Adrian Morley. Well, at least until Morley clotheslined Robbie Kearns and kneed Corey Hughes in the face anyway.
You can bet the England RL press corps would not be lining up to blame him for any problems they might encounter either.

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