Sam Burgess gave Sonny Bill Williams a warm welcome in their season-opening clash at Allianz Stadium last season. Copyright: NRL Photos/Renee McKay. Credit: NRL Photos/Renee McKay. Copyright: NRL Photos/Renee McKay.
Sadly it serves to highlight what the NRL will be missing next year, but all the talk in the lead-up to the season start on Thursday is about the titanic clash between Sonny Bill Williams and Sam Burgess.
Even amongst the players.
Williams and Burgess will defect to rugby union at season's end to join fellow superstars Israel Folau and Benji Marshall in the ranks of the departed to the 15-man code.
With a comprehensive review of the salary cap still ongoing the NRL has promised to aggressively move to combat such defections.
But the reality is the round-one match between Williams' Sydney Roosters and Burgess' South Sydney will be one of the last times these two go head-to-head in rugby league.
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The two regular-season clashes between the bitter arch-rivals set crowd and television ratings records last year, mainly on the back of the star duo's pulling power.
Both the Rabbitohs and the Roosters possess star-studded line-ups but even the players themselves admit they are keen to see Williams and Burgess lock horns again.
"I can't wait - I get front row seats," Roosters back-rower Boyd Cordner said on Wednesday.
"He has prepared really well Sonny. He hasn't really spoken about it at all so it might just be something in the heat of the moment.
"He gets about his business every week the way he does and I suppose that is why he is so good.
"He is fully prepared every week and none more so than this week, it is a huge clash.
"He has been great Sonny all pre-season and we are always trying to work hard as a team but personally I think he is going to have another big year."
While Williams' return to rugby was expected, Burgess's defection shocked many; especially the Rabbitohs' faithful.
Back-rower Ben Te'o believes Burgess will give everything in his final year at Redfern to help break their four decade long premiership drought, starting against the Roosters.
"Sam, since he has been at this club has given a good year every year," Te'o said.
"We want a focused Sam Burgess and I'm sure he is going to give the fans and this club everything.
"The Roosters are big, we are big, they are going to be very aggressive and that is how we want to play.
"The forwards battle is going to go a long way to determining the game."
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Burgess enjoyed a round-one victory last year over Williams, and the Rabbitohs over the Roosters.
But Williams starred as the Roosters blew Souths away in the teams' final round minor premiership showdown as the tricolours paved the way for their 13th premiership.
The Roosters premiership win hurt Rabbitohs fans almost as much as their own preliminary final meltdown.
Ahead of the teams' 109th meeting in a rivalry that has spanned 107 years, the Williams-Burgess clash will add another chapter to the clubs' enduring and intertwined histories.
But Williams and Burgess don't need to be reminded of that and they will do their talking on the field.
"I haven't really told Sam that much and he hasn't really said that much," Souths captain John Sutton said.
"He is one of those players that gives 100 per cent every week so I'm expecting a big year from him.
"I know he will be putting in everything he can for this club."
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