Omigod, Sammy Burgess is leaving the NRL! How can this be? What do we do now? Why won’t the NRL rush in marquee player allowances? What’s going to happen to the NRL?! Honestly, judging by the reaction of fans, you’d think The Riddler just captured Batman and Gotham City was being run by super villains! Let’s get one thing straight people. Better players have left the game (some have actually returned to claim premiership titles) and even better players have replaced them. Are we not over-reacting to the Sam Burgess decision?
Although not quite official, it appears a fete accompli that Sam Burgess will be leaving the NRL at the completion of the 2014 season to join the Bath Rugby Club with a view to representing England in the 2015 Rugby World Cup. My first reaction was…. good on him. My second reaction was: why is he doing it? From all reports, it’s more about the prestige of representing your country in two codes. Elite athletes thrive on a challenge. That’s what gets their blood circulating. You see, they’re not like you or I. They get bored doing the same routine for too long. Just ask Sonny Bill Williams, Quade Cooper, Israel Folau, Karmichael Hunt or even Paul Gallen. What we need to comprehend is some of these elite athletes depend on the big stage. It’s almost like a drug (a legal one, that is). Most fail to cope without the big stage. Just ask Ian Thorpe. History is riddled with great athletes who found difficulty coping with life after elite sport.
Of course, a major factor is the financial reward. It would be a complete lie if any of them denied it. But, I truly believe the lure of the big stage is an incredibly irresistible carrot. Imagine the opportunity to play a Rugby World Cup in your home country in front of a possible world wide audience of a hundred million people? AND get paid $1Million+ per year to do it! AND go one on one against your arch nemesis in Sonny Bill Williams in a Rugby Final? Wow! Who, in their right mind would forgo that opportunity? Now, be honest with yourself. And, yes, we all know he’ll simply waltz back to the NRL thereafter. Easy decision.
Does the NRL offer a similar stage to a Rugby World Cup? The only thing that comes close is the State of Origin. The problem with Origin is that it excludes “non Australians”. Sonny will never experience the thrill of an origin stage. Nor will Sammy Burgess. I get howled down every time a suggest this, but I truly believe that State of Origin needs to evolve to incorporate the “best of the best”. If you’ve played in the NRL, then you should be entitled to represent either NSW or Queensland irrespective of which country you represent. If you’ve played your first junior or senior football in NSW or Queensland, you’re eligible for State of Origin. That way, players like SBW, Sam Burgess, Keiran Foran and previously, Benji Marshall, would be eligible for Origin status. You won’t lose any passion as a result. It’ll be the ultimate challenge. Then, and only then, can we refer to Origin as a battle between the very best players in the NRL. The above players can then be compensated financially hence providing further incentive to remain in the NRL.
My problem with marquee player allowance is – who will fund it? Most clubs don’t even make a profit. Can’t be them. Sponsors? Good luck finding them in the current economic climate. That’s not to mention the bad publicity NRL players continue to generate. NRL? Can they afford it? Perhaps. How many marquee players per club? One? Who get’s the nod at Melbourne? Cam Smith? Billy Slater? or Copper Cronk? Anyone for Rock-Paper-Scissors?
Obviously, there’s no one silver bullet that fixes this problem. Perhaps, the Sam Burgess exodus is symptomatic of a new paradigm in sport generally. It’s the new reality and we, as fans, simple have to accept it as the norm. These guys have a short time span in which to maximise their earnings potential. We can’t begrudge them for making decisions in their best interest. I say, let Sammy be. Good luck to him. My main gripe is – what will Beau Ryan do on the footy show now that Sammy’s gone. What will come of Susie Boyle? Ahhh, gonna miss ya Summy Burrrgess!