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Rabbitohs welcome back Burgess

Sam Burgess looks set to start the new NRL season at lock with the South Sydney Rabbitohs after being named in Michael Maguire’s starting line-up for the club’s final preseason friendly. Following his return Down Under after a disappointing year-long switch to rugby union with Bath and England, Burgess is now preparing for his first taste of NRL action since playing a crucial role in the Rabbitohs’ Grand Final success in 2014. The influential back rower had been expected to spend at least another two years in England playing the 15-man game, but a combination of a slow start to life in rugby union and missing his Australia-based family saw Burgess make a return to league and the Rabbitohs.

Having established himself as one of rugby league’s best players before and during his time in the NRL, it was thought that Burgess would make a seamless move over to union when Bath convinced him to make the switch. With the backing of the RFU, Burgess was signed by the Premiership side with a place in last year’s World Cup as both his and England’s target. After starting his union career in the centres, it was at blindside flanker where Burgess really played his best rugby for Bath. But it was in the middle of the backline where England used him during the World Cup, during which Burgess failed to really produce his club form, coming in for some stinging criticism from some sections of the media.

 

NRL GF 2014

NRL GF 2014” (CC BY 2.0) by  Scott Nolan 

It was perhaps no surprise that Burgess found himself made something of a scapegoat following the hosts’ dismal early exit from the tournament. It wasn’t long until rumours began to surface that the 27-year old was looking for a return to the 13-man game, with a host of NRL and Super League clubs quickly making their case to sign Burgess. But rather than sign for a club in England or another Australian outfit, the in-demand Yorkshireman sealed a return to South Sydney, where his brothers George and Tom are currently making their own names for themselves.

The signing has certainly come as a boost to the Rabbitohs hopes this season, with South Sydney now with odds of around 11/1 to repeat their 2014 exploits this year. Burgess was the NRL’s best player when they ended their 43-year wait to win a Grand Final and the club’s fans will be hoping the dual-code international has a similar impact this season. On the back of such a historic year, last year’s seventh place finish and first round exit in the Finals had many fans convinced this team is a much weaker one without Burgess in it.

With their talisman back in the red and green, there is a much more positive feeling about the Bunnies this year, and it would certainly be fitting if Burgess now led the team back to a Grand Final in his first season back. But with so many strong teams set to start the 2016 NRL campaign, the return of their prodigal son may not be enough for Souths to go all the way this year.

 

 

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