Sattler: Souths bigger than Burgess
South Sydney great John Sattler has spoken of the special bond he feels with modern-day gladiator Sam Burgess but says he shouldn't be welcomed back to the NRL "with open arms" once he defects to rugby union at the end of the season.
Sattler was back in Redfern on Tuesday for the launch of his long-awaited autobiography, Glory, Glory in which he not only details his extraordinary rise from Kurri Kurri to rugby league immortality but also offers his views on the modern game.
In it, one of the greatest warriors the game has ever known speaks of the admiration he has for current Rabbitohs Greg Inglis and Issac Luke but spared special praise for Burgess, who after five seasons in the NRL will leave the Rabbitohs at the end of the year to play rugby union with Bath back in England.
"If there is one current Rabbitoh I feel a special affinity with, it is Sam Burgess. For a Pom, he’s not a bad bloke," Sattler says. "Seriously, Sam could become one of rugby league’s true greats. I know he’s had some issues with his discipline in defence, but in my view he’s the most damaging forward in the code today.
"I had the pleasure of meeting Sam at a club event and felt an instant bond with him. He has more talent than I ever had, but like me, he has two personalities. Off the field, he is the smiling, gentle giant who would happily serve Meals on Wheels to pensioners. On it, he is a ferocious competitor who never takes a backward step and would go to war for his teammates.
"The tragedy is that Sam has been lost to rugby league. Just as he was ascending, at warp speed, toward greatness in the NRL, the code was rocked by the news that he had accepted an offer from English rugby with a view to representing his country of birth at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
"Given his national pride, I can’t begrudge Sam the opportunity to become a dual international. I wish him all the best. But after he goes to rugby, I don’t believe he should be welcomed back with open arms to the NRL. His unexpected defection is Souths’ great loss, but the club is always bigger than the individual.
"I watched icons like John O’Neill, Michael Cleary and Ron Coote shake the club to its core by severing ties ... and still South Sydney marched on."
The last player to captain South Sydney to a premiership way back in 1971, Sattler is best known for leading the cardinal and myrtle to victory in a brutal 1970 decider against Manly despite suffering a broken jaw in the ferocious early exchanges.
It was a display of toughness that would be almost impossible to replicate in the modern age of player welfare but Sattler still believes there are three forwards of recent times who would have held their own in the rough-and-tumble days of the 1960s and '70s, including banned Sharks skipper Paul Gallen.
"If I had to name three forwards who would have cut it in the 1960s, I’d choose Shane Webcke, Petero Civoniceva and Paul Gallen. "I don’t believe there are many truly great forwards in today’s game, but that trio would have handled the toughness of a truly brutal era.
"Webcke was your classic old-style prop. He wasn’t a tall man but he had a great work ethic, and would always put his hand up to make the dirty hit-up.
"Gallen is maligned in many quarters but I haven’t seen many tougher players than him. When the going gets tough, Gallen gets stuck in. He has the ability to lift others. I would have loved to have him in my side.
"And, finally, I can’t ignore Civoniceva. At his peak, Petero was just a relentless forward with the heart of a warrior. In his later years, he worked hard on his offload, but from day one he had the courage to take a hit and soldier on."
Glory, Glory: My Life by John Sattler with Peter Badel is on sale now from book stores and at johnsattlerbook.com.