ENGLAND AND Leeds Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield says he has “mixed feelings” about rugby league hero Sam Burgess’ switch of codes.
Sinfield said he understands the reasons behind Burgess’ move from Aussie NRL club South Sydney Rabbitohs to Aviva Premiership union outfit Bath.
But he insisted there is no reason for league to be worried about raids from the much richer 15-a-side code.
Dewsbury-born Burgess, 25, will join Bath in October – at the end of the NRL season – and is targeting a place in England’s side for next year’s union World Cup.
Bath have agreed to pay a £500,000 transfer fee to South Sydney, where Burgess was contracted until the end of 2016.
He has signed a three-year deal with Bath, who are coached by former Castleford player Mike Ford.
“I am disappointed he is leaving rugby league,” said Sinfield, who has played alongside Burgess for England and captained him in last year’s World Cup.
“I am disappointed he won’t play a part in what English rugby league is going to be doing over the next three years.
“But on the flip side of that I think it’s a fantastic move for Sam. I would never begrudge any player who wanted to do something new or who wanted a challenge.
“I completely see the attraction that’s there for him and I’m sure he’ll make a huge success of it.
“I am sure it will be good for our game that another one of our converts will go across and hopefully be fantastic.”
Sinfield said he is not concerned about a player drain to union, which has a far higher salary cap.
“I don’t think it’s a huge worry,” he said. “When you have got a talent like Sam he could perhaps go and play a number of sports and be a huge success. There’s a big difference in salary cap and I suppose what’s on offer rugby union-wise is huge compared to where we’re at at the minute in rugby league.
“But hopefully over these coming years we can bridge some of that gap.
“We can’t moan about it now. In the 1980s and 90s and long before that we went and raided rugby union clubs and brought players across.
“I have no problem with it. I know Sam and I have swapped texts with him. He is a fantastic lad and I’m sure everybody in rugby league will wish him all the best. He’s a tremendous talent and if he can go and play like he can I think it sends out positive signals about our sport.”
Sinfield denied that Burgess has gone to union for the money.
He said: “I suspect the reason he has gone is to play for England and to move back over here and to play a part in the 2015 rugby union World Cup.
“It would be unfair to suggest Sam has gone for the money. He has gone to play two different sports for his country and I think if he can achieve it it is absolutely fantastic.”
Burgess began his career with Bradford Bulls before joining South Sydney ahead of the 2010 season.
A prop or back-rower in league, he is expected to play inside-centre in his new sport.
England coach Steve McNamara says Burgess’ decision to switch codes is a blow to league.
“It is hugely disappointing and a huge loss,” said McNamara. “He will be a big loss and a big hole to fill.
“He is the biggest name we have in English rugby league and probably worldwide rugby league right now.
“He’ll certainly be a big asset for rugby union – Bath in particular and, hopefully, if Sam makes it his ambition to play for England rugby union as well.”
McNamara added: “He has got the basic attributes but knowing the inside outs, technicalities and understanding of the game is a completely different concept.
“He’s going to have to work harder than any other player in English rugby and he is going to have to do that on top of all the other physical aspects and normal training every player has to put in.”
McNamara believes Burgess is capable of making the England squad, but does question whether he will learn the game quickly enough.
Meanwhile, Rhinos’ medical staff are checking on hooker Paul Aiton who suffered an ankle injury in the win at Hull KR two days ago.