Sam Burgess, Greg Inglis and John Sutton warm up before Souths’ training at Redfern Oval on Tuesday. Picture: GETTY IMAGESSonny Bill Williams has been called a lot of things.
Mostly by Bulldogs fans.
But South Sydney giant Sam Burgess may have a more complimentary term for his Sydney Roosters foe when the dust settles on Friday night’s NRL preliminary final – inspiration.
Sure, Burgess will be out to knock Williams off his pedestal.
But it seems Williams is destined to be held up on one by Burgess.
South Sydney legend Craig Coleman rates Burgess as the best English import to play in Australia and one of the Rabbitohs’ greatest forwards.
But Burgess will be content to earn a tag all too familiar to Williams – winner.
On the field, little has separated the pair since Burgess kicked off their rivalry in spectacular style, bulldozing his Roosters opponent on Williams’ NRL return in the 2013 season opener.
And off it, similar paths await them – both will leave the NRL for rugby at season’s end.
But it seems that’s where the similarities end.
Dual international Williams, 29, has already secured a reputation as one of sport’s most accomplished athletes before he returns to rugby with the Chiefs in New Zealand. He has won two NRL titles.
He effortlessly switched to rugby in a stunning five-year, 19-Test stint highlighted by the All Blacks’ 2011 World Cup triumph.
He even dabbled in pugilism – albeit against opponents who sometimes stretched the term “professional boxer”.
But perhaps his greatest achievement was turning around public perception.
In 2008, Williams was public enemy No 1 after sensationally walking out on NRL club Canterbury with four years left on his contract and linking with French club Toulon.
He ruffled feathers again when he claimed he returned to the NRL in 2013 only because he had to honour a handshake agreement with Roosters chairman Nick Politis.
Two short seasons later and Williams is largely forgiven in the eyes of NRL fans.
Then again, that theory may be tested if Williams runs out against the Bulldogs in the NRL grand final.
And only more success appears on the horizon.
Williams is not only eyeing the 2015 World Cup but also the Rio Olympics where rugby sevens will make its debut. And Burgess?
The South Sydney juggernaut’s reputation as an NRL hard man is secure – just ask Coleman.
“As a South Sydney forward, he is right up there with Ron Coote and Bobby McCarthy,” Coleman said.
“I grew up in the golden era at South Sydney and Bobby and Ron were my heroes but Sam Burgess is every bit as good as them.”
And as an English import?
“I saw them all and in my eyes Sam Burgess is the best,” Coleman said, lifting Burgess above the likes of Ellery Hanley, Mal Reilly and Adrian Morley.
However, Burgess’s NRL legacy will go on the line in the preliminary final when he looms as the key to ending South Sydney’s 43-year premiership drought before taking up a three-year deal with English rugby club Bath.
Some cynics would say Burgess has already followed Williams’ lead by walking away from the last two years of his Rabbitohs contract to switch to rugby.
But in contrast to Williams, Burgess has been given no guarantees ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
His rugby future may be up in the air but he will take a giant step towards defining his NRL contribution on Friday night.
And fittingly, the man whose success Burgess no doubt aspires to repeat, Williams, will be there.
“I know Sam will want to go out with an NRL premiership and Sonny Bill will be no different,” Coleman said.
“But I think Sonny Bill has had enough glory – leave some now for Sam.” AAP
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