Two English NRL-based players have leapt to the defence of Sam Burgess following his rumoured switch to rugby union, describing the possibility of playing in a home World Cup next year as an opportunity too good to refuse.
Burgess, 25, is currently home in England with his brothers following a family bereavement, and while Rabbitohs recruit Lote Tuqiri yesterday said his team-mates were still in the dark on Burgess' future, it is understood that 2014 is likely to be his final year in Australia.
After first experiencing surprise at the news, Dragons team-mates Gareth Widdop and Mike Cooper both agreed that the lure of next year's rugby union World Cup, particularly in England, would be a huge factor in his decision.
"Behind football [soccer], rugby union is one of the biggest sports over there so for someone like Sam to get an opportunity to play in a World Cup for England is obviously very tempting," Widdop said.
"He'd be a big loss to the rugby league, the NRL and England as well. Everyone knows how good a player he is but I'm sure he's got his reasons and I hope everyone supports his decision."
Cooper said that the former Rabbitohs skipper had just about accomplished everything he could since arriving at Redfern in 2010, save for winning a premiership. And that goal could still be achieved in what would be a fairytale finish to his four-year stay in the NRL.
"He could do with a premiership, but in terms of English players coming out over here, you can argue he's been up there with most in terms of what most have done for the game," Cooper said.
"Certainly for the English game, he's put England on the map really. To come out here alone as a young lad and made an impact on the NRL is a big thing to do, especially when he's had some off field troubles as well. He should be proud of what he's achieved."
Tuqiri, who is also a dual international and played for the Wallabies in the 2003 and 2007 rugby union World Cups, admitted that playing with Burgess was a huge factor in his decision to sign a one-year deal with South Sydney, but said he and his team-mates were unsure on Burgess' thinking.
"I don't know what's happening. I can't give you that much but all I know is that Sam's here and he's part of the reason I came to the club, he's a superstar and I'm happy to play with him," he said.
"Who knows what's happening?"
Burgess is currently signed until the end of 2016, having signed a three-year extension in 2012. England's first game in the World Cup is in September, 2015, which would give Burgess less than a year to make the adjustment to the 15-man game.
While the NRL is on the verge of losing one of the best imports produced by England in Burgess, Cooper began his Dragons career with a try off his first carry in Australia. The 25-year-old enjoyed a solid hitout coming off the bench in a trial against a combined Illawarra Cutters and Mudgee Dragons side last Friday and said he was currently enjoying his move to the southern hemisphere.
"You can't not enjoy it. It's a lot different to what I'm used to. It's certainly nice to get up in the morning and see the sun shining. It makes you want to train and be fit and active. It's very appealing for me and my missus," he said.
"The heat hasn't been too much of an issue for me. I thought it would be but it's not, which is good. We've settled into the club really well and everyone's made me feel welcome which is great."
Cooper, who was part of the Warrington Wolves side that lost last year's Super League Grand Final to Wigan, said there was a big difference in the quality of defence in the NRL.
"Defensively I've got to be a bit tighter than what I was back at home," he said. "In the Super League, you can loosen up a bit and try and put a big shot on every single time. Over here you have to reign that back a little bit and be a bit more sensible."