Sam Burgess explains that there is at least one advantage to swapping a summer in Sydney for a winter in Warrington.
“Just being able to go to dinner and wander around the shops and not be bothered,” says the new Warrington Wolves head coach, who returned to England with his fiancée Lucy and newborn daughter Robbie in October. “Not feeling like they’re watching you all the time.”
For Burgess, privacy was a rare commodity in Australia. In a country where rugby league stars are as famous as footballers, the captain of NRL giants South Sydney Rabbitohs was big news: his on-field performances made the back pages, his off-field problems took center stage. the first pages.
“There is a very high-pressure environment there,” the 35-year-old tells Mail Sport from a hospitality box at his new home, the Halliwell Jones Stadium. “Things may be like that here, but I’ve really enjoyed everything about coming back so far, and I think Lucy has probably enjoyed it even more than I have.”
‘I’m back to see where it all started. I went back to my old street and saw the house where we grew up. I took Lucy to where she used to play: Dewsbury Moor and Hunslet Parkside.
Sam Burgess has no regrets about his decision to swap sunny Sydney for Warrington
Burgess says he and his wife Lucy enjoy being out of the spotlight in the north of England.
‘We are really settled and we also love the people here. “The rugby league community is a really welcoming community.”
More welcoming, certainly, than the rugby community when Burgess last returned to England 10 years ago, which involved being heckled for 80 minutes by a man with his dog while playing for Bath reserves in Exeter.
Slammin’ Sam eventually helped Bath, who he joined from South Sydney for £500,000, reach the Premiership final in his only season with the club. But his controversial cross-code switch will be remembered for his involvement in England’s disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign.
Despite finishing the domestic season as a wing, Burgess was selected in Stuart Lancaster’s squad as a center over the more established Luther Burrell. When the hosts failed to get out of their group after losing to Australia and Wales, some pundits partly blamed the rugby league newcomer, who quickly returned to the 13-a-side game.
Do you think he was made a scapegoat for England’s failed campaign? “That’s what it feels like sometimes,” Burgess admits. ‘They like villains and it worked for me to be that guy.
“Everyone gets upset and thinks I’ve been rushed. But if you ask any player in camp to be honest, I trained my ass off and fought my way to make that team.
Burgess points out that in his five appearances for England, his team only trailed once when he was on the field: the time he came on as a 65th-minute substitute in the 33-13 loss to Australia. Against Wales, England were leading 25-18 when Burgess was substituted in the 70th minute and they lost 28-25.
“The game against Wales is the most important game that everyone talks about,” he says. ‘How they can make me a scapegoat, I don’t know, but they managed to find a way.
The rugby league legend begins his career as a head coach in Super League.
The 35-year-old counts Russell Crowe as “a great friend” after his generous act
‘We had some amazing coaches. Stuart Lancaster, Andy Farrell, Mike Catt, Graham Rowntree. Look at what they have gotten to do in their careers. The results on the field were not what we were looking for. But players need to check some of their apps for that.
“In the end, I had some problems with the Bath people, and that’s essentially the reason I left. It had nothing to do with England. “You have a very short career and I wanted to make the most of it and do it where there was less behind-the-scenes play and more on-field play.”
After cutting ties with Bath just 12 months into his three-year deal, Burgess rejoined South Sydney, which is co-owned by his close friend Russell Crowe.
When the Yorkshireman first signed for the NRL team as a 20-year-old in 2009, it was the Gladiator actor who called him personally and asked him to sign after seeing him in action for the Bradford Bulls. Crowe then invited Burgess and his mother Julie to the Robin Hood film set, where they spent three hours talking in his trailer.
Last year, the Hollywood star even encouraged Burgess to leave his assistant coaching role at South Sydney for his first major role at Warrington, owned by one of Crowe’s associates, concert promoter Simon Moran.
“We talk almost every day,” Burgess says of Crowe. ‘We are just great friends. He is amazing, very loyal and a good role model. He’s coming to a game. I think he is here doing something in his world and I think the dates could coincide, which will be great.”
Burgess will always be touched by a gesture Crowe made shortly after joining the Rabbitohs, when he presented a season ticket for his father Mark, who died from motor neurone disease in 2007.
Souths legend has mixed feelings about code switch to rugby
He feels he was made a scapegoat for England’s failed 2015 World Cup campaign.
“His seat is next to Russell’s in the stadium,” Burgess says. ‘Every year, Russell sends me his membership card. He has been a member of the club since 2010 and is now a gold member.’
Burgess, whose brothers Luke, Tom and George also played for South Sydney, was just 18 when his father died. He had been acting as their sole carer at home, juggling those responsibilities with trying to break into the first team at Bradford.
“When you look back, it was a pretty difficult time,” he recalls. ‘But while you’re in the middle of it, you just do what’s required and move on.
‘My dad watched me play professionally for Bradford and was my biggest fan. He wanted me to see me play for England or Great Britain, but unfortunately he passed away before I played.
‘It was a really pivotal moment in my life. It shapes you and gives you great perspective. What is the saying? Adversity presents man to himself.
Burgess has faced more adversity more recently. After a chronic shoulder injury forced him to retire at age 30 in 2019, he admits to feeling “totally lost” as his life spiraled. He divorced his wife Phoebe, with whom he has two children, and was caught driving with traces of cocaine in his system, which led him to spend a month in rehab, which, he says, “changed him.” his life.”
Another life-changing experience came when Burgess appeared on the reality TV show SAS Australia and was impressed as the only celebrity to pass the grueling course. “What I took away from this was that your body is capable of doing more than what your mind tells you,” he says.
On the programme, Burgess struck up a friendship with SAS chief instructor Ant Middleton. He used that connection to organize a two-day training camp for his Wolves team at Betteshanger Country Park in Deal, Kent, in December, forcing players to put down their phones, sleep in tents and run 45 miles in 30 hours.
“Ant is a great friend of mine, but he is also a very intelligent man and knows how to bring people together,” says Burgess. “It was a really tough two days, but I thought if anything it would probably bring us a little closer as a team.”
“I wanted to take it away and find out a little more about my players. It was a really fun exercise. At the time, it may not have felt like it, but I think we got a lot out of it as a group.”
Burgess’s attention is now on his Super League coaching journey with Wolves.
You can’t wait to get started as the new season quickly approaches.
Time will tell if that training camp will breathe life into Warrington this season. Wire, who begin their campaign against the Catalans on Saturday, finished sixth in the Super League last year and were eliminated in the first round of the play-offs by St Helens.
They are the only club to have spent every season in England’s top flight, but have not won the title since 1955. Burgess, however, has a history of turning around underperformers, having taken South Sydney to the NRL glory as captain in 2014, ending a 43-year drought.
“It’s a pretty similar story and I hope that experience will help me shape things here,” adds Super League’s youngest boss, who hosted teenage darts sensation and Warrington fan Luke Littler at a training last month.
‘In the end everyone chases the prizes, that’s what we’re here for. But that remains in the distance. It is more important to improve today.
‘I won’t make any bold statements. It’s not going to help the team or me. But the opportunity is fantastic. I’m looking forward to starting now.’