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As personal challenges go, George Burgess knows he hasn’t faced any as tough as North Queensland’s Australian Test duo of Matt Scott and James Tamou. But as South Sydney look to continue their ultra-impressive start to the 2013 season when they host the Cowboys on Friday night, the bigger question – literally – might be whether they’ve faced anything like him.
Already a cult hero among the red-and-green faithful, the 120-kilogram giant has surprised even himself with the impact he has had off the bench this year, the highlight being three remarkably similar yet no-less-memorable runs that have brought him tries in wins over Sydney Roosters, Canterbury and the Warriors.
And although scoring tries was never part of the grand plan, the rising English prop has no plans to stop anytime soon.
“I don’t know really, I’ve just been trying to do my best,” Burgess told NRL.com when asked if he had surprised himself with the quality of his performances in his first full season in the NRL. “I didn’t really expect to be scoring tries, so that’s been a bit of a nice surprise.
“I think ‘Sutto’ (John Sutton) has given me the ball for all three tries. He’s been passing me the ball near the line and I’ve been trying my best to get over but it’s been working well.
“Me and the coaching staff, we always talk about having an impact off the bench and starting straight away when I get on and I just try to do that – run as hard as I can and try and get through the line, make my tackles and keep the middle solid.
“That will be really important against the Cowboys this Friday because they’ve got a big pack with a lot of experience. Their front-rowers (Matt Scott and James Tamou) aren’t in the Australian side for no reason so it’s a big test to contain those boys.”
While big brother Sam has long been considered the cream of the Burgess clan, the emergence of George in such prominent fashion this season has certainly bolstered the Rabbitohs’ premiership aspirations given the ability of their big men to roll over the top of their oppositions.
But the 21-year-old insists he wasn’t always destined for his current role.
“I was pretty chubby growing up… well, not chubby, but just a big lad,” he explained. “When I started training full-time at Bradford and then at Souths, with a good few pre-seasons behind me, it’s been going well. But it [his size] is not something I’ve ever focused on. My goal has been playing good footy and [the body] has just been a natural progression really for me.”
So what’s different now to 2012 when he made his debut in Round 13 before playing just two more NRL games for the year?
“I think for us big forwards it’s all about lateral movement,” Burgess said of his pre-season training regime. “The NRL is very defence-based, so that’s one thing that I tried working on. It’s been improving, especially around marker play and all that stuff around the ruck where the crafty hookers try and catch you out.”
The scary thing not only for North Queensland on Friday night but all opponents over the coming years is that the Burgess factor remains well shy of full force. Twenty-six-year-old Luke Burgess, who has played 28 games for the Bunnies since arriving from England in mid-2011, recently re-signed with the club for a further two years, while George’s twin Tom emigrated during the most recent pre-season and will no doubt stake his claim in the coming months and years.
As George points out, the family has not only reunited over the past two years but is now well and truly here to stay.
“People say how rare it is to have four brothers playing for the same club but it’s not really strange for us because we’ve always been around each other growing up – it’s just a natural progression for us,” he said.
“We’ve got Mum here now too. She moved here last Christmas Eve and she’s having a great time. She got a job at one of the best schools in Sydney [at The Scots College at Bellevue Hill] and she is here to stay now too.
“That was the plan and it has worked out well with Mum getting a job and Luke has just had a baby so we’ve even got an Aussie in the family.
“It’s great. We feel really lucky to be able to work together and play together. We’ve just got to keep it up now and not get complacent.”