Burgess says England are ready
It's a record without international success that stretches back almost as long as South Sydney's premiership drought but England prop George Burgess believes his side is better prepared than ever to win a first Four Nations title.
Burgess and twin brother Tom were both named in coach Steve McNamara's team to face Samoa in the first of the double-header encounters at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night with George to partner Bulldogs enforcer James Graham in a formidable starting front row.
Warriors fullback Sam Tomkins and Dragons five-eighth Gareth Widdop round out the England players currently plying their trade in the NRL.
George Burgess and Graham were only shaded just by Sam Burgess for the Clive Churchill Medal in the Rabbitohs' Grand Final triumph but it is McNamara's season spent on the coaching staff with the Sydney Roosters that could pay the greatest dividends over the course of the tournament.
While the likes of halfback Matty Smith, hooker Josh Hodgson and centre Kallum Watkins remain relatively unknown in the southern hemisphere, McNamara has spent an entire Australian winter swotting up on the best talent that the Australians, Kiwis and Samoans can muster.
The last time an England team tasted success at an international tournament was the 1975 World Series but Burgess is a big believer in the power of knowing your opponent's strengths and weaknesses.
"It's a bit of an insight into our opposition," Burgess said of the bonus of NRL exposure. "In the past we've not always had a great deal of knowledge on who we're coming up against but a few of us have come up against them every week back in the NRL so it's been good for that experience so hopefully we'll be one step ahead of where we've been in the past few years.
"The Australian-based England players, we catch up a fair bit with Steve and have a meal; he shouts it for us so that's good. We catch up every now and again and go through some things that we'd usually do with the squad back in England and it's good to have those check points every now and again.
"[Steve] gets to know the NRL pretty well in his first year and he's at a pretty good club at the Roosters so he'll definitely be ahead of where he was last year I think."
Graham will captain the English team on Saturday in the absence of Sean O'Loughlin with a quad strain and having stood tall in the toughest rugby league competition in the world will drive a simple message into his teammates throughout the course of the tournament: They're only human.
"The only thing where it will helps, for me personally, is the confidence levels," Graham said. "For the new boys who have never played against them before there is always a bit of nervousness, but the lads have just got to give the non-NRL based players a bit of confidence, tell them they are human after all."
Rather than looking ahead to next week's blockbuster against the Kangaroos in Melbourne, Burgess insisted that the squad remains focused only on Samoa and meeting the challenge they present up front.
But rather than taking a leaf out of the Junior Kangaroos' pre-match approach to the haka in New Zealand last weekend, Burgess said they will give the Samoan Manu Siva Tau the respect it deserves.
"Nah we'll just enjoy it and enjoy the experience," said the 22-year-old who played in all five World Cup matches for England last year.
"You don't get to do it often so you've got to enjoy the experience every time you get the chance. I think it's a great spectacle for the fans and something I always look forward to.
"I think the competition is wide open and anyone can win it, Samoa included. You've just got to take each game one at a time and not underestimate anyone or overestimate anyone.
"Any team on its day is going to be tough to beat so you've got to stick to what you do best."