SAM BURGESS is in a comfort zone – one that does not include politics, outside influences and definitely no-one willing to criticise him in a book.
And that may bring the best out of him as England look to win the Rugby League World Cup.
The nation’s biggest star hopes to land success at a tournament at the fourth time of asking.
In 2008, injury robbed him of a maiden appearance, in 2013 he was part of a side devastated by a last-gasp semi-final defeat to New Zealand. Then there was his experience as a rugby union player in 2015.
Listen to some and England’s hopeless exit was solely down to him.
But was it Burgess’ fault all hopes were pinned on his shoulders? Was it Burgess’ fault that he was switched from centre to the pack and then back to centre again?
Little wonder then that he is determined to put the ‘bad days’ behind him and spearhead England’s charge for glory in a game he knows so well, focusing solely on what happens on the pitch.
“It’s a lot more relaxed,” said Burgess when comparing a league World Cup to a union one. “In union, there was a lot of external noise and influence around the camp and the media focus was next level, it was a feeding frenzy.
“I didn’t notice the weight of it until it had finished. When you get back into real life and walk down the street and meet people, you feel what’s been going on. People were bringing to my attention things I hadn’t had a clue had been written or said, it was pretty much everywhere I went.
“I learned a lot about myself and other people and the way things work – and I’m better for the experience. I’m really proud of what I did and what I gave for my country.
“I know there are people who will think another way but those on the inside who really know what was going on would agree with that. I’ve no shame about what happened.”
South Sydney Rabbitohs ace Burgess is rugby league royalty in Australia, where the game is treated like Premier League football in England, as the passers-by doing double takes that said, ‘Is that Sam Burgess? And who’s the oaf in the other chair?’ proved in Melbourne, where the game trails a long way behind Aussie Rules.
But the 15-a-side stint still plagues him. The latest to bring it up is the Rugby Football Union’s former director of professional rugby Rob Andrew, who describes his World Cup selection as an ‘almighty blunder’ and him as a ‘rogue ingredient’ in his autobiography.
Clearly, he is sick of the talk surrounding things off the field. He thinks people in union should be too.
Burgess added: “I’d think they’d be sick of it a little bit, they seem to be embarrassed about it but they’re the ones who keep bringing it up.
“It’s typical of politics in rugby union. The amount of politics during that World Cup was through the roof.
“I can’t even remember meeting Rob, I don’t even know who he is. He’s obviously trying to market a book and fair play to him but it’s all been and gone now.”
Burgess has a new target on his mind – helping England win the league World Cup for the first time since 1972.
Coach Wayne Bennett will start the 28-year-old, who admits he is ‘excited’, in the second row in Friday’s opener against favourites Australia – and has pointed out areas of his supreme game that he can improve.
“We’ve definitely improved as a nation,” Burgess said. “You didn’t see that in results last year but certainly our preparation has gone forward. Steve McNamara did a great job and deserves a lot of credit for the growth in England.
“Wayne has come in and done things his way. He’s instilled confidence in the team but also an understanding of what it’s going to take to beat the top nations.
“He’s seen everything and tells some great stories. He’s a seriously experienced bloke with a great way of dealing with things and explaining mindset and mentality. Wayne’s been a great help for me as a player.
“He’s pointed out two or three things in my game, just little things. If he makes a difference to me then I’ll certainly be happy. He’s very honest and straight down the line but he’s only doing it to make you better, there’s no malice.”
Now all the talk is over, Burgess can get back to being a bloke from Liversedge, West Yorkshire who is a damn good rugby league player.
And he believes being around his countrymen, many of whom do not see the same focus on the game, can be an unlikely driving force.
He told SunSport: “We’re almost all from a similar part of the world, the north and a lot of us have very similar backgrounds and have known each other for many years.
“It’s refreshing to get around the English boys, who really enjoy what they’re doing. Sometimes when you play in the NRL, you lose that at times – it’s high pressure and everything is scrutinised whereas many of these boys don’t see that.
“It’s a completely different environment and that’s why I enjoy it. It’s my most enjoyable time of the year.”
And any dreamers out there have a pal in Burgess, who has already ran through what winning the World Cup would be like in his mind.
“I’ve visualised it,” he said. “You’ve got to visualise things but then I snap back into reality and realise what it will take.”
AUSTRALIA: Slater; Gagai, Chambers, Dugan, Holmes; Morgan, Cronk; Woods, Smith, Klemmer, Cordner, Gillett, Trbojevic. Interchange: Graham, McLean, McGuire, Frizell
ENGLAND: Lomax; McGillvary, Watkins, Bateman, Hall; Widdop, Gale; Hill, Hodgson, Graham, Whitehead, S Burgess, O’Loughlin. Interchange: T Burgess, Walmsley, Roby, Heighington
Zak Hardaker lost a World Cup spot after failing drugs test, says Wayne Bennett
WAT A CALL
Kallum Watkins says response to alarms could determine England’s World Cup.
Rugby League World Cup is as good as it gets… and England can win it!
hall for won
Ryan Hall says World Cup glory for England comes before try-scoring heroics
Paul Aiton warns Wales and Ireland they are in for a shock in Papua New Guinea