Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Burgess bid for rugby sure to stir up NRL

Sam Burgess of England. Photo / Getty Images
Sam Burgess of England. Photo / Getty Images

That's more like it. It's traditional for the league season to start with a decent rumour and a month out from the NRL kickoff, we have a doozy. South Sydney colossus Sam Burgess, the best forward in the game, is - according to a Sunday Telegraph report - considering rugby in time to play for England at next year's World Cup.

While surely late for an effective switch for the 2015 tournament in Europe, anything is possible and this is not the news the NRL needs as it builds to the 2014 season.

But as sad as this may be for league, it is still a much better start than last year, when the five-tackle-kick brigade had the legs kicked out from under them by an Aussie crime report on sport and drugs and ... well, you guessed it, crime.

Can you believe it is a year since the former head of the Aussie anti-doping agency Richard Ings made his "blackest day in Australian sport" claim? This turned out to be nothing more than a rumour, an unsubstantiated one so far although as a headline-grabbing technique it was world-class.

Yes, there were things definitely worth investigating. But grand-standing first and trying to find the evidence to match the headlines later encourages miscarriages of justice, as occurred in this case against individuals and a sport.

At one point Cronulla players appeared in danger of being railroaded into plea bargains when they may actually have been misled or coerced by club officials into taking substances on the ever-changing banned lists. Disgracefully, the situation regarding the players remains unresolved.

The blackest day turned out to be a grey area. It did, however, give sport - and especially AFL Aussie rules and league - a chance to focus on a potential problem. I would argue more strongly than ever - given the year of procrastination and confusion - that a truth and reconciliation-type commission was a more effective route. This shaped as a rare chance to make massive gains in policy, education and detection including the tricky area of injury recovery.

As for Burgess, he would be a tremendous loss to league. The immediate problem is timing. He would be landing his considerable frame in the deep end. There was no suggestion of what position he would play. The forwards is a tougher transition and, at a guess, No8 suits his build, athleticism and skills.

If Burgess obtained a contract release from the Rabbitohs at the end of this year, he would have less than one full northern season to adapt before the World Cup, and without the benefit of any rest or pre-season preparation time. The final round of the NRL coincides with the beginning of union's club programme in England, and the Rabbitohs will likely make the NRL finals. Burgess isn't the type to do a sneaky mid-season runner the way Sonny Bill Williams did.

Despite its frustrating inadequacies as a spectator sport, rugby has far more international clout and resources than league. Burgess is a tremendous competitor, and a rare athlete with amazing power. Given the right circumstances, he would be a rugby sensation if he could cope with all the stoppages. At the age of 25, there is plenty of time and Burgess would be a coup for union with more to come. England back Sam Tomkins, the Warriors' new recruit, is open about his intention to join brother Joel as a rugby international.

King Carlos in his own class

Carlos Hernandez, the Wellington Phoenix A-League midfielder, is one of this country's best sporting imports.

The Costa Rican is easily among the top players we've had in any of our soccer teams - what the All Whites would give to have someone of his class.

There are two damaging black holes in our team sport. One is openers for the national cricket team; the other creative soccer midfielders.

New Zealand is still searching for top order batsmen in the Glenn Turner/Mark Richardson class with little hope on the horizon.

But soccer has found a gem in Hernandez who is not only a matchwinner but terrific to watch. His passes cut Adelaide apart at Eden Park on Saturday night. Extending his contract to next season is brilliant news for the club. If Hernandez, 31, stays fit, the Phoenix can win the A-League this season but I wouldn't fancy their chances without him.

- NZ Herald

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 26 Nov 2014 13:38:21 Processing Time: 657ms