NRL: Slammin’ Sam Burgess Defies Pain, SBW Returns, Bunnies End 43-year Wait

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Rabbitohs win historic first NRL Grand Final in 43 years: GLORY GLORY TO SOUTH SYDNEY!

One of the most historic Grand Finals in history saw the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs square off against one of the NRL’s foundation clubs, the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Souths, competing in their first Grand Final for 43 years, have progressed massively under current owner and Hollywood megastar Russell Crowe. After two successive years of semi-final heartbreak and an oppressive history that has hung over their heads, they finally broke the drought.

However, the Doggies were not just there to make up the numbers. Led by notorious Englishman and all round hard man James Graham, the Doggies made sure that the Bunnies would not simply hop away with the title. A cagey first half punctuated with a solitary try from a piece of genius blindside running by miniature Bunnies half back Luke Keary saw young rookie winger Alex Johnston cror0_0_4956_3304_w1200_h678_fmaxss in the corner, taking his season tally to 21 tries in just 18 games!

6-0 at half time and the Doggies were lucky to be in the game. Yet, the one thing the boys from Bankstown have been this season is gritty. Never ones to back down, and with a stubborn forward pack containing some of the NRL’s great hard men, many still felt they were still in the game.

The Rabbitohs lack of precision in the first half was punished almost immediately after the break; a sweet grubber from Bulldogs half back Josh Reynolds saw giant back rower Tony Williams latch onto the ball and dot it down to put the Doggies straight back into the game.

6-6, and Souths fans could be forgiven for thinking the curse of failure was warming up and getting ready to bite them in the posterior.

However, it was not the curse that was warming up… rather the Bunnies. From the 57th minute onwards, it was clear the year of the Rabbitoh was well and truly underway. A huge hit up by George Burgess saw him bounce through 3 defenders close to the line with exquisite footwork and scary power, to slam the ball down. An added penalty from Adam Reynolds (a Reynolds on each side) left the Bulldogs in panic mode at 14-6 down.

Then the floodgates didn’t so much burst open as disintegrate in the face of a red and green tsunami. A cross-kick was scooped up by Greg Inglis, who dropped a little bomb into the dead-ball zone. It bounced over the oncoming Alex Johnston and straight into the hands of ANOTHER boom Rabbitoh rookie, Kirisome Auva’a, who dotted down just inside the line. Cue tears from union-bound Sam Burgess (more on him later) and wild celebrations from Rabbitohs fans in the stands.

And another… Another short chip from Souths captain John Sutton saw covering Bulldogs fullback Sam Perrett run into the goalpost and Adam Reynolds, a Rabbitoh junior who grew up 500 yards from their spiritual home in Redfern, charged onto it to score yet another. A close score line was starting to look like an epic shellacking. Some may argue it was unfair for the poor Doggies, others would say that 43 years of catharsis needs to come out some how, and unfortunately, the Doggies were in the wrong place at the very very wrong time.

And still it was not over.

After the junior, it was the turn of the superstar… The Rabbitohs have produced many truly great players and Sam Burgess will be one, but few would ever deny that for sheer killer instinct, the Almighty Greg Inglis must surely be the most deadly. An earlier dazzling 50 metre run came to naught, but Inglis who but seconds before had been crying tears of joy, raced onto to a ball from Keary to go 40 metres and bury the already-nailed-down coffin of the Bulldogs.

I am a diehard South Sydney fan, and to watch the scenes at ANZ Stadium last week was to watch all that is great about rugby. Tears of joy, history and the creation of legends. Glory, Glory to South Sydney. South Sydney marches on!

5791632-3x2-700x467Slammin’ Sam, wins NRL title, with tears and a double facial fracture, Bath and England await for Union-bound Englishman.

We have all heard of epic injury stories; players playing a certain amount of a game with a busted shoulder or some such injury. However, I do not believe in the history of rugby league (or indeed union) there has ever been a case where a hard running prop (yes, PROP!) has fractured both his cheekbone, and eye socket 10 seconds into an NRL Grand Final. Those ten seconds were the time it took Sam Burgess to catch the ball off the kick off and charge, literally face first, into fellow Englishman and Bulldogs counterpart James Graham’s head. He staggered away from the clash pointing at his depressed cheek, yet waved the trainer away and stepped straight back into the attacking line for another carry.

43 years ago, during the last Rabbitohs Grand Final triumph, Bunnies legend John Sattler played most of the game with a broken jaw. It is rare that we get to see a truly ‘old school’ performance. But what Burgess did – racking up a massive 225 metres and 36 tackles – was a throwback performance;  and worthy of the Clive Churchill Medal for best on the pitch.

He now moves to Rugby Union to play for Bath. Unfortunately, that won’t happen for another six weeks, due to facial surgery (obviously!). In their infinite wisdom, and after suggesting they might try him in the back row, Bath have seen the light and want to try him at centre. More so than his NZ counterpart Sonny Bill Williams, Burgess will bring a direct, and yet more rounded approach to English centre play than either Kyle Eastmond or Manu Tuilagi.

IF he makes the switch successfully, then it will allow Stuart Lancaster to play a horses for courses centre partnership, depending on the team England are playing. Luther Burrell and Burgess would mean two perfectly balanced centres, both capable of ball playing or running hard lines. Burgess and Tuilagi would mean Burgess could play the SBW role and put Tuilagi into space to allow the rampaging Samoan-born Englishman to wreck opposition defences.

This all depends on the IF factor, but Burgess is intelligent enough, and clearly studious enough to make it work.

40753And with one rugby league legend coming to Union, another returns…..’Hi Sonny, how ya been?

Just two weeks after his NRL side – the Sydney Roosters – crashed out of the competition, SBW has been training with Counties Manukau in a bid to get him some ITM Cup playing time before his expected return to the All Blacks squad on their end-of year-November test series. With vague (I mean it’s the All Blacks, so really it’s nitpicking) issues at 12 for New Zealand, a strong return by SBW would provide a welcome relief for Steve Hansen after their most recent loss to South Africa. His direct running, and outrageous offloading skills, will bring an even more potent power to the running game of the All Blacks. And with either Malakai Fekitoa or Conrad Smith outside him, the New Zealanders will be able to pick and choose their attacking game plan based around the totemic centre.

Well, that’s another NRL year wrapped up… and what a year! Enjoy the new converts and keep checking back for the NRL preseason predictions in a few weeks!

About Jamie Loyd 30 Articles
Jamie Loyd hails from London but has traveled the globe playing, watching and covering rugby - especially Rugby League. He's quick-witted, smart and has exceptional elbows.