'Burgess can put Souths back on top'
"Welcome home Sam. We missed you mate."
Those are the sentiments of former South Sydney captain Mario Fenech, who believes Sam Burgess is the man to lead his club back to the top of the NRL.
The 27-year-old Englishman returns to the cardinal and myrtle in 2016 after spending one season playing rugby union for Bath and the English national side.
His last game in the 13-man code was one Rabbitohs fans will never forget. Despite fracturing his cheekbone in the first hit-up of the 2014 NRL Grand Final, Burgess soldiered on, leading his side to its first premiership in 43 years.
"The secret to us is the Sam Burgess factor," said Fenech, when talking to NRL.com about the return of the 2014 Clive Churchill Medallist.
"Sam has got a rare quality, where he's a leader. He's got motivation. He leads by example. He's brutally tough. These are all great qualities.
"He holds his own. He's an extremely good athlete. Our forward pack will be far better, and be led far better too by the acquisition of Sam Burgess."
His departure at the end of 2014 didn't seem to have a sudden impact on the club, as Souths started the new year winning the Auckland Nines, the World Club Challenge, and beginning the Telstra Premiership with consecutive wins against the Broncos and Roosters.
However, injuries and suspensions took their toll late in the season, with the Rabbitohs bowing out in the first week of the finals to the Sharks.
Off-season reports of player unrest fuelled suggestions that some members of the South Sydney squad had started to question how things were being run at the club.
While Fenech isn't reading too much into the rumours, he believes there has been a change in the way players and club officials interact.
"It's a different generation, and I'm not trying to be critical, but in my era, the coach was king. I did what I had to do. He told me what to do, and I would do it," Fenech said.
"I had a very simple attitude, and generally all my teammates did too. We knew that the coach was king. I had to do what I was told. Especially captaining the team, I knew I had to lead the team in a manner that made my coach happy."
Fenech is hoping the return of Burgess will tighten the playing group, who have enjoyed a more relaxed pre-season compared to last year's hectic schedule.
"A couple of years ago, he was so instrumental in our grand final, and I think he'll be instrumental on and off the field in 2016," said Fenech, who believes Sam's return will inspire brothers Tom and George Burgess to bigger things this season.
"Home is where the heart is, and his family and his brothers are here too."