ENGLAND head coach Steve McNamara thinks “things are happening” with Sam Burgess’ potential return to rugby league – while, elsewhere, the sport’s greatest coach has already promised the Bath player a place in his team, too.
McNamara – preparing his side for Saturday’s second Test against New Zealand – was asked on Wednesday about whether he had any update on Burgess’ plans.
The Dewsbury-born 26-year-old – lambasted for his selection and performances in England’s doomed World Cup campaign – is believed to be on the verge of heading back to league after just 12 months in union with Leeds Rhinos and former club South Sydney both in the hunt.
Bath head coach Mike Ford insisted on Tuesday that Burgess would see out the remaining two years of his deal but it is thought the club’s owner Bruce Craig will sanction his release if the £500,00 transfer fee they paid Souths last autumn is recovered.
McNamara, who coached the dynamic forward at Bradford Bulls and with England, said: “I am hearing there is some news.
“I’ve got nothing confirmed but I do think there’s things happening.
“I’d be glad he’s back in rugby league if he does return as the sport needs characters like Sam and it’d be great for the game.
“But he makes his own mind up on these things and then goes with it; he wouldn’t talk to me about it.”
If Burgess did need any further encouragement, however, he was handed it by legendary former Australia coach Wayne Bennett, the Brisbane Broncos chief who will head up the World All Stars side for a revamped fixture against the Indigenous All Stars on February 13 next year.
The traditional pre-season game due to take place in Brisbane has previously involved an NRL All Stars side but that has been altered slightly for 2016 to incorporate a more international feel.
At least four England players – probably taken from the eight featuring in the Australian competition – will take part and Bennett says Burgess would be one of them if he did return to the sport where he played with great success with Souths from 2010 to 2014.
“Sam played the first year he came out to Australia – I picked him then before he’d played a game in the NRL,” said the veteran Brisbane Broncos chief, deemed the doyen of rugby league coaches.
“He loved the week. I remember him coming to me afterwards and thanking me.
“I think it also helped the players in that team get to know him and accept Sam is a great player and a good bloke.
“I think that was a big stepping stone for him as he started his NRL career. If he’s available you can put him down.”
James Graham (Canterbury), Josh Hodgson (Canberra), Mike Cooper and Gareth Widdop (St George-Illawarra) plus Tom and George Burgess (Souths) are current England internationals playing in the NRL while another – Elliott Whitehead – joins Canberra after this series against the Kiwis and, also, uncapped Luke Burgess is at Manly.
McNamara has reported no fresh injuries ahead of Saturday’s crucial game at London’s Olympic Stadium.