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'Smacked with a shovel': Behind the scenes of Sam's finest hour

"How his eye didn't fall down, I don't know. Because it looked like there was just nothing there to keep it in place … it was flattened, like he'd been smacked with a shovel" – Mark Carroll

"Like an egg that has just crumpled in on itself" – Lote Tuqiri

"F--- you then, your face looks like a dropped pie" – James Graham

October 5, 2014. The night Russell Crowe's "starry-eyed man" looked like he'd lost his right one.

The right side of Sam Burgess's face was black and blue as he led the cardinal and myrtle to their first title in 43 years.

Teammates were amazed at how he played on after his face crumpled in the first tackle of the grand final, smashed in by James Graham's own "Pommy granite" noggin as the great mates clashed.

Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire never really expected anything less than Burgess playing through the pain.

"I always thought Sam was going to ride through, you don't really realise what's happened at that point in time," Maguire tells

"Right throughout 2014, and even '13 and '12, he was taking his body to places a lot of people couldn't.

Sam Burgess with Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire after the 2014 grand final.
Sam Burgess with Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire after the 2014 grand final. ©NRL Photos

"We played against the Bulldogs leading into the 2014 finals and grand final. Right before half-time I remember James Graham, his old sparring partner, he got him right in the ribs.

"You could see Sam's discomfort at half-time and he just insisted 'I've got to go back out there, I've got to keep playing with my players'.

"He went back out, finished the game with two tries and had done it with two cracked ribs. No painkillers, no nothing. Decent audition for the grand final."

Troy Thomson was the Rabbitohs' orange shirt trainer on grand final night, and the second to assess Burgess after he had immediately signalled to fellow trainer Kurt Wrigley, the English enforcer's face already swelling like a bruised plum.

Maguire was in Thomson's ear from the coach's box once it became clear Burgess's cheekbone was fractured.

"Madge goes 'get out there and tell him it's his Johnny Sattler moment'," Thomson laughs.

"I'm thinking 'that's pretty corny' and I can't remember if I even passed that one on, Sam was playing on with or without that one.

"You could tell straight away that there was a fair bit of damage.

"But he was fully coherent and Sam says I think 'I've broken this, it feels like I've cracked my eyeball'.

"We went through all the processes and I can't stress enough how good a doctor Andrew McDonald (the Rabbitohs doctor that night and for the past 24 years) is. At the end of the day his safety came first.

"But some of the expletives Sam had about coming off, I can't repeat them, but I won't forget them."

Burgess with Rabbitohs owner Russell Crowe.
Burgess with Rabbitohs owner Russell Crowe. ©NRL Photos

Burgess told The Matty Johns Podcast earlier this year that coming off for treatment never crossed his mind. Even with his mate Graham urging him too.

"He looked at me dead square in the eye and I could feel that he was sincere and he said, 'Sam your face is a mess, go off'," Burgess recalled of the exchange at an early scrum.

"I said 'F--- off, I’m staying out'. He said well 'f--- you then your face looks like a dropped pie'."

Souths icon Bob McCarthy rang the club's Foundation Bell before kick-off and was in the stands as Burgess battled on.

Sam Burgess takes the field for the 2014 grand final.
Sam Burgess takes the field for the 2014 grand final. ©NRL Photos

He was of course on the paddock when Sattler did likewise in 1970, his jaw broken in three places with Manly opponents trying to inflict further damage for the rest of the game.

"We knew John was doing it tough so we kept throwing the ball around him in the first half, over his head, behind him," McCarthy remembers.

"Then we got in at half-time and he tore strips off us with his busted jaw. He said 'I'm staying on so give me the ball, don't play me out of it'."

Rabbitohs teammates couldn't have kept Burgess out of the game even if they tried.

He had over 100 running metres by half-time, and would finish with 218 from 22 carries, with 39 tackles to boot.

Whereas Sattler blew up during the break, Burgess just brushed Maguire.

"I walked past him and I did ask him at half-time if he wanted to keep going," Maguire says.

"I'm pretty sure he ignored me. There definitely wasn't a conversation about it between us.

"It's just what was required for the team and his teammates."

Souths led a dogged Canterbury outfit 6-0 at the break, and slowly but surely pushed further ahead upon the resumption, Burgess still leading from the front.

"I went out there for the second half thinking 'this guy's doing this with half a face. What are we doing here?'," Lote Tuqiri, the Rabbitohs' right winger recalls of what proved a perfect swansong to his glittering career across two codes.

"At some point in the second half one of the Canterbury forwards in a scrum gave it a little test, there was a bit of contact on the head, a cheeky cheap shot.

Burgess takes a run in the 2014 grand final.
Burgess takes a run in the 2014 grand final. ©NRL Photos

"And Sam called it just that, he just goes 'you cheeky bugger', and he just got up and got on with playing.

"I remember checking on him, 'are you sure you're OK?' And he's got half his face drooping down but Sam's still adamant he was fine. It's one of the toughest things I've ever seen on a footy field."

Burgess stayed for the duration. Blinking back tears, he almost nailed an 80th-minute sideline conversation, before being hoisted immediately onto brother George's shoulders for an emotion-charged victory lap.

The Clive Churchill Medal followed before one single celebratory beer.

"He was straight off to hospital, he was in the sheds for an hour at most and then we didn't get to see him again for a couple of days because his face was being put back together," Tuqiri says.

Burgess after the 2014 grand final.
Burgess after the 2014 grand final. ©NRL Photos

Scans revealed Burgess had played through not only a fractured cheekbone but a fractured eye-socket too.

Four metal plates were inserted into one of the game's most recognisable faces.

"He sent me that x-ray of his face. It's unbelievable, from one side to the other, it's scary," former Rabbitohs hard man and family friend Mark Carroll says.

"To explain it, it was chalk and cheese, just absolute opposites. One side was perfect.

"The other side was busted up, cracks all over it. There's multiple fractures. I did my eye socket when I played footy, how his eye didn't fall down, I don't know.

"Because it looked like there was just nothing there to keep it in place. Right across to his cheekbone, it was flattened, like he'd been smacked with a shovel. It's absolutely staggering, quite staggering that he played on."

Burgess eventually played on, on the other side of the world, his debut for English rugby outfit Bath delayed by a two-month recovery.

The ill-fated stint saw him back at Redfern within a year. Playing on until all those injuries took a toll he could no longer play through.

Burgess accepts his Clive Churchill Medal.
Burgess accepts his Clive Churchill Medal. ©NRL Photos

In his farewell letter to Rabbitohs members this week, Burgess encouraged "everyone to smile as they read this".

"Let’s all remember what we have done together as a club over the past decade rather than what’s not to be in the coming years."

As the siren sounded on October 5, 2014, Burgess could barely manage a smile, his face a mangled mess, dropped pie and cracked egg all in one.

Long may it be remembered.

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