MVPs of 2014: Sam Burgess
As we count down to season 2014, NRL.com identifies 30 players who will be crucial to their team's fortunes this year. From new faces to rising stars to proven performers who will need to lift this season, these are our 'MVPs' for 2014.
We've come to a very interesting juncture in the career of Sam Burgess.
Is the South Sydney enforcer one of the most powerful and durable forwards in the modern game, or an English thug who falls into ill-disciplined ways when his frustration levels reach their tipping point?
Throughout the 2013 NRL season and into the Rugby League World Cup, Burgess attracted the ire of the match review committee on four separate occasions for two high tackles, a 'crusher' tackle on Sharks prop Andrew Fifita and a 'squirrel grip' on Storm centre Will Chambers.
When you play the game with the power and aggression that Burgess possesses, the occasional high shot somewhat comes with the territory but it was the latter two – and an off-the-ball incident where he had his hand around the eyes of Roosters five-eighth James Maloney – that gave weight to the detractors who believe that he employs dirty tactics.
The Rabbitohs recorded victories when Burgess was suspended in rounds 23 and 24 but with no Michael Crocker, Roy Asotasi or Jeff Lima at Redfern in 2014 the seniority amongst the forwards rests with Burgess, and coach Michael Maguire can ill afford to having him spend extended periods on the sideline courtesy of the judiciary.
The challenge for Burgess this season will be whether he can manage his aggressive style of body-trampling hit-ups and bone-rattling tackles without overstepping the line. It's a lot to ask of any player in the NRL – "Be aggressive, but not too aggressive" – but if Maguire and Burgess can find the happy medium then South Sydney will be premiership contenders for a third straight year.
If you need any convincing of the influence Burgess has on the fortunes of his team, consider the following statistics from the 2013 season: he scored more tries than Jack Reed, Will Zillman, Matt Bowen and Josh Dugan (eight), was equal with Greg Inglis, Akuila Uate and Daly Cherry-Evans for line-breaks (13), was fifth in the competition for hit-ups (354) and sixth in the NRL for total run metres (3,227).
But there are down sides. He was first among forwards for errors (24) and his 20 penalties conceded was the equal highest alongside Josh Reynolds, Sam Thaiday and Jake Friend.
Thaiday was shown in no uncertain terms recently that if you get offside with the referees then your leadership can be compromised and it is unquestionably an area of Burgess's game that needs urgent attention.
The sheer number of minutes he plays is partly to blame for such a record and at this point of his career the good still far outweighs the bad.
He inspires with and without the ball and possesses the type of skill normally reserved for men much smaller. He has managed to curb a propensity to reach out one-handed whenever he gets within 10 metres of the tryline and is quite simply the big kid all other kids wanted to play with as juniors.
He sets the example that his three brothers – Luke, George and Thomas – follow and has been adored by Rabbitohs diehards ever since co-owner Russell Crowe enticed him from Sherwood Forest to Sydney's eastern suburbs.
He's been a darling of the social set and extremely accommodating with his time for media outlets but, more than ever, Sam Burgess's behaviour on the footy field will be what defines his season in 2014.
And that of South Sydney.