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Question mark over latest Burgess move down under

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George Riley George Riley | 12:10 UK time, Friday, 24 June 2011

With all due respect to Luke Burgess, his move from Leeds Rhinos to South Sydney Rabbitohs has raised a few eyebrows.

Back in April I wrote a piece applauding James Graham's move to Australia, while urging more top British players to follow suit. My argument here was for our top international stars to test themselves against the best Down Under, in the hope that this would produce a more battle-hardened England team capable of closing the worrying gap on the southern hemisphere superpowers.

The move was always going to happen with Luke's brothers, George and England international Sam, already warming the Sydney beaches for "Biffa's" arrival, and even more so this year with first-team chances increasingly limited under new Rhinos boss Brian McDermott.

But you always scratch your head a little when a player who can't hold down a regular Super League spot can secure a transfer to the best league in the world.

Would it have happened had Sam, and to a lesser extent George, not already been there? I'd say almost certainly not. The Aussie club believe the talented brothers will flourish from being together on the other side of the world.

"It's no shock to me," prop forward Luke told us this week as he prepared for his flight out to Australia, where he will join Sydney until 2013. "It is something that I have wanted, that I have asked for, and I've just been waiting for a decision from Leeds.

"I am very grateful to Leeds for releasing me to the next chapter of my career, but we couldn't agree on a new contract. They offered me one but I wasn't happy with it. I did want to stay this time as I was enjoying it here, but it hasn't happened and I have always wanted to challenge myself in Australia."

Leeds prop forward Luke Burgess

Luke Burgess has failed to secure a regular spot in the Rhinos side. Photo: Getty

I really hope Burgess gets a game and makes the most of this fabulous opportunity. In truth I think he will struggle to make an impact upon the first team squad but the Rabbitohs' coach-in-waiting - Wigan boss Michael Maguire - disagrees with me.

"He's quality," said Maguire. "You've seen what his brother [Sam] does so I can't wait to work with him. Luke will push himself into the representative arena and we will work him hard.

"He will need to work really hard to get in but I'm sure if he wants it enough he will. I am looking forward to working with all three brothers."

It's worth remembering too that there is a fourth Burgess. Tom went against the family grain by rejecting the Sydney overtures at the time of George's departure, and opting to stay and make his name at Bradford. Whatever Mr and Mrs Burgess put in the boys' breakfast cereal growing up should be replicated throughout the rugby league heartland.

I understand Leeds now face a real fight to stop another player heading to the NRL. I'd heard whispers for the past few months that hooker Danny Buderus was being courted by the Newcastle Knights and this was confirmed this week following the appointment as chief executive of the former St Helens centre Matt Gidley

"We've spoken to him [Buderus] but he's contracted to Leeds so we can't do much at the moment. I hope we can agree terms," he told my colleague Phil Kinsella.

Gidley was outstanding at St Helens. He now has a master's degree in business administration and his brother Kurt captains the Knights. He's only 33 but I think he'll be a revelation in the role.

Back in Super League, Sport England this week delivered the expected but nonetheless depressing news of a £1m budget cut for rugby league over the next two years.

This is disappointing given there are record numbers playing our sport at the moment, but the simple truth is they are not playing the sport regularly enough and it is that which is at the heart of the decision.

I'll be doing my bit this summer by donning the colours of Neil Thorman's London Skolars touch rugby team. Warrington coach Tony Smith labels me "hands like a digital watch" so if you're also a dreadful player I urge you to get involved too.

A final word for the family of Paul Darbyshire. The Warrington great passed away this week aged only 41 after battling motor-neurone disease and will be greatly missed.

Thoughts go out to his family and friends.


  • Comment number 1.

    I won't miss Luke so long as we replace him. For me, he made too many mistakes (mainly knocking on way too much). He will need to step up his game a lot to get into the Rabbitohs first team. As a Rhinos fan, we seem to be coming to a period where we are going to have to start replacing players and hope that some of the young lads coming through are good enough with a few quality signings in there as well (hopefully!)

  • Comment number 2.

    Luke Burgess has only made 3 errors all season, has made more meters than the majority of Leeds' current forwards and does his fair share of defensive work as well.

    He is a talented bloke and I hope he goes well down under.

    Sport England has screwed RL over. I assume they took the fact that a major winter in 2010 meant the vast majority of games in northern England were called off into consideration?

  • Comment number 3.

    He will go well in Aussie. Better surroundings & being close to his family will help. It's not really a gamble for Souths. He won't be on much money at first. If he goes well Souths will upgrade his contract.

    We could do with some front rowers right now. Most are currently out injured...

  • Comment number 4.

    So Richard Lewis giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other....strikes me that he has a massive conflict of interest being chair of Sport England and the RFL

  • Comment number 5.

    I didn't agree that James Graham's move to the NRL was something to be applauded as, aside from not wanting to lose him as a club player, I have never bought into the myth that playing in the NRL somehow creates better players for England. Neither Ellis nor Sam Burgess have exactly set the world alight in their performances for England up to now. The Australians play a different style of rugby league to the English. It isn't better, it is just different. What English rugby league could do with is more games that are closely competed, such as the one between Saints and Warrington on Friday night. There are too many walkovers in Superleague (although I know the NRL have their blow out scores too) and that is down to poor coaching standards as much as anything else.

    With the massive increase in wages down under as well as the preferable lifestyle offered by Australia, the RFL needs to get to grips with what has to be done to make staying in English rugby league more attractive to our best players. The RFL appears to be taking its normal stance on such matters, namely an absence of action. However, at present we are relying on our best players to be home birds, loyal to our clubs no matter what (Sam Tomkins, James Roby, as two examples). But there will be others for whom this is not enough and while a desire to live in Australia and/or try out the NRL is unlikely to be quashed if strong enough, I'm sure there could be incentives created to persuade the wobblers to stay. Or perhaps created early enough in our players' development to avoid them being tempted in the first place. I rather like the suggestion made by Ian Millward in this week's League Weekly as that might result in a more even spread of talent and thus create a more competitive Superleague environment, which in turn might entice players to look to their own shores for their future rather than those 12,000 miles away.

    On the point about Buderus - I think his and the attitude of some other Australians lately should signal to English clubs the risks that are going to be involved now in employing players from down under. With the expansion of the NRL to 16 clubs and the massive jump in salary potential with the increase in the cap down there, the English game is bound to see fewer and fewer talented Australians (of whatever age or stage in their careers) moving over here. This might have a positive result for our game. There was a time when we hardly imported anyone to the English game but instead took pride in promoting our own either by clubs bringing through talent or by agreeing terms with players from other clubs. We were challenging the Aussies when we were playing predominantly English players. With all the investment many clubs have been placing in local talent lately, maybe we will once again start challenging the Aussies when we begin to grow our own centres, wingers and halfbacks? I'm sure there is the talent out there if clubs would look primarily to their own doorstep rather than 12,000 miles away. Perhaps developments down under will be the catalyst to effect that change in attitude.

  • Comment number 6.

    SaintDi - Mark Riddell was on the Sunday Football Show on CH9 this weekend. When asked by host Peter Sterling if coming back to play in the NRL after playing in SL, was the standard higher? Riddell said the NRL was a much higher standard week in week out.

    So much so, that after 12 rounds in the NRL with the Roosters, he has decided to give up playing & go into coaching with immediate effect.

    The NRL is already at 16 clubs, will be at 18 clubs by 2015 according to David Gallop.

    With a higher playing standard, nationwide exposure, higher wages & a better lifestyle...why shouldn't a SL player give it a go? Good luck to another Burgess.

  • Comment number 7.

    @SouthNZ - No-one located in Australia is going to say that the NRL is either of the same or lower standard, particularly an Australian! What you have in the NRL is a higher number of intense, competitive matches. However, Wigan versus Saints on Good Friday, Warrington versus Saints on the Friday just gone, to name but two, are on an equal footing to anything I have watched in the NRL. What the English Superleague lacks is enough competitive games. What we don't need are more teams added. The quality dropped with expansion to 14 teams. We need to get more teams performing at a higher intensity and level of skill before we even consider 16 teams.

    Can't argue with the lifestyle in Australia. Having spent three months there myself, in Perth, there is simply no competition! Perth has the most stunning beaches I have ever seen and such a laid back atmosphere that no wonder Brits still love emigrating there.

  • Comment number 8.

    It's a tricky one, the expansion v reduction (= intensity) discussion. The expansion teams are suppossed to improve international rugby league by widening the talent pool via English teams, and creating a professional centre of excellence for French and Welsh rugby league at Cats and Crusaders. However, the expansion to 14 teams, along with the removal of relegation has seen a reductioin the intensity, which arguably hurts England internationally. Quins have been going 30-odd years in various guises and have barely produced one English player of note, although Cats and to an extent Crusaders look more positive. Hopefully the likely foreign-player drain to the NRL, making youth development more important, will create more of a level playing field and thus more intensity, but unless the RFL reduce SL to 12 teams, it's hard to see that changing, as the big clubs will switch their recruitment focus to young English players at smaller SL clubs. But will the RFL bring back promotion and relegation and reduce SL to 12, thus risk loosing expansion teams in the process?

  • Comment number 9.

    Let's get something straight - the NRL is a much stronger, intense competition - no argument. I emigrated to Brisbane, the world capital of RL, in 2007 and there is no way we can match the Aussies unless we:
    1. Send our best (and youngest) players to play in the NRL on 2/3 year contracts- subsidise these if necessary.
    2. Continue to recruit the 'best' Aussie talent for Super League - even if they are older.
    3. Bring back the GB Lions - we need all home nations involved.
    4. Bring back the SL World Club Challenge - maybe top 4/6 teams from both comps.
    5. Incorporate a genuine Lions/Kangaroo international tour into the calendar, similiar to the Rugby Union version.
    Let's be honest - apart from the odd game, we've gone backwards since the 1995 World Cup. Now we are definitely no better than No.3 in the world. With the strong Aussie dollar, a new $1Bn+ TV deal and further expansion over the next 2-3 years we need to start sending over our best players now or international RL will die over the next 20-30 years from a British point of view.

  • Comment number 10.

    seahawk08 - word on the street is that the Rhinos have just secured Darrell Griffin's signature for next season... a solid prop with a good work rate, he could prove a useful signing should the rumours come to fruition of course.

  • Comment number 11.

    ok, lets think about this.

    You've been brought up and live in the north of England. You're paid to get beaten up some thirty-odd times a year.

    In your early-mid twenties, someone offers to pay you to move to the galmour of Australia (as in the latest Fosters adverts.....) and get beaten up less than you are now.

    Tough decison??

    PS....if Buderus goes, time for the Rhinos to end Disko's banishment to the Bulls ("for a crime he did-not commit")

  • Comment number 12.

    LB did well in his first game. Defended strongly.

  • Comment number 13.

    I thought he went ok for first game. Some of the others (Sutton!) were shocking. Big test next week: Manly away. Very strong in attack & defense.

  • Comment number 14.

    Ok here's what you guys from the UK need to know. As Australians, we will always talk ourselves up saying we're superior blah blah blah. Truth is you guys in the UK need to change your mindset. Physically England can match Australia. Mentally you guys seem to be in awe....Don't be. I see parellels with Aus-Eng and QLD-NSW. Us QLDer's have always been the underdogs. We have always been treated like rubbish and shown disrespect from the NSWRL. Your national team has to adopt a siege mentality as well as you fans. Yeah Australia might seem like a better place to live, but the grass is always greener on the other side. I can tell you many Aussies would love to live over in the UK believe it or not. Different perspective.


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