Rugby league hero Sam Burgess tells us how to play on with a broken face
Having made a temporary code switch to play in the rugby union World Cup last year, Burgess is now back with his beloved South Sydney Rabbitohs in the Australian NRL. FS magazine caught up with Slammin' Sam.
Where did the nickname Slammin’ Sam come from?
[Laughs] I’m not sure, there was a documentary made out here [in Sydney] called that. Some of the boys used to call me it and I guess it kind of stuck. I don’t know where it came from though; a commentator must have said it one day.
Could be a better nickname than one based on your ‘squirrel grip’ tackle [so-called because you grab your opponent’s nuts] a few years ago, though?
Yeah, I guess it sounds a bit better than Squirrel Sam.
Were you in a lot of pain when fractured your cheekbone and eye socket in the first minute of the 2014 NRL Grand Final [and played on until the end], or did
the adrenaline of being in the final mask it?
I was in some pain, yeah, as I’d done some serious damage. So I certainly felt it, but adrenaline did kick in at some point. We’d been playing in a certain way for 30 weeks and it had almost become robotic when we were playing, so I guess I just got into that robotic mode and it was half time before I knew it. Then it was 65 minutes in, and we starting to run away with it. The pain started to go away a bit when I knew we had victory in the bag.
It was the last game of the season and, at the time, my last game at the club for I didn’t know how long. So it was going to take a lot to get me off the field. And given that situation again, I dare say I’d stay out there and see how long I could last.
It took a few months for you to recover from that. Were there any lasting effects from the injury?
No lasting effects, no. It’s fully healed, but I’ve still got all the plates and screws in there – five plates and 21 screws. That makes it a bit sensitive sometimes because they’re quite close to the skin and to my eye. Everyone asks if I set off metal detectors, but I think they use non-metal materials these days that doesn’t set them off.
How good an owner is Russell Crowe for the South Sydney Rabbitohs? How involved does he get?
Russell’s massive – the club’s back in the competition because of him. He took over the club when they got kicked out of the competition for a while, revived them, got them back in and it just shows how passionate he is about the club. He’s not here for himself, he’s here to leave the club in a better place than when he found it. I dare say he’s done that, and will continue to do that through his time as part of the ownership. Russell’s a very wise bloke – he’s been very successful in his career and he knows what it takes to succeed.
Have you got any advice for anyone switching codes from union to league, and is there anything you’d have done differently?
Not really, I enjoyed my transition. There will be plenty of people who say otherwise but I’m proud of what I achieved in the game. Although we didn’t get the results in the [2015 rugby union] World Cup, I was happy with what I contributed to the team. At the end of the day, it just came down to what I saw myself doing long term, what I enjoyed most and felt I could give my all to.
If players do want to make the switch either way, I’d say go for it, it’s certainly doable. I’d like to see more union players make the switch to league, and see if they could handle the game. It’s easy for people to sit on either side and point fingers and make comments, but until they go and do it, they should just reserve those comments and have a bit of respect for both codes.