South Sydney Rabittohs, one of only two foundation clubs still playing in the National Rugby League have always been a club with a story attached to them.
They are one of Australia’s oldest and proudest clubs, with a rich heritage, 20 Premierships behind them and have had a playing roster akin to a who’s who of some of Australia’s greatest playing talent stretching back over 100 years.
Success in recent times has been scarce though, having won their last Premiership in 1971, the Bunnies have lurched from crisis to crisis, had their share of financial issues, taken several wooden spoons for finishing bottom of the premiership table and were excluded from the competition for two years for failing to meet the selection criteria for the restructured NRL competition.
However, times are changing for this great rugby institute. Their image has been transformed in recent years due in no small way to Russell Crowe being part owner, which has elevated them into the mainstream media, not only in Australia but on a more global scale. Last season they qualified for the play off series for only the second time since 1989 and at present they sit proudly on top of the NRL ladder.
Prospects are certainly looking up for the side based out of Redfern, and as a story book tale goes, a Premiership trophy at the end of the season would be fitting after so many long years in the wilderness. This in world cup year too, where each and every rugby league player will want to put themselves in selection contention for the end of season jamboree which will be held in Europe in October and November.
South Sydney will be sending their fair share of players to compete for their respective nations but the Bunnies will be doing more than many English based sides to provide players to Steve McNamara’s England squad.
South Sydney currently has four players contracted to them who are eligible to represent England. The four are all brothers, who hail from Wakefield, West Yorkshire and it is possible, by no means a certainty but possible that the Burgess brothers could all be representing England come the end of this season.
Sam was the first to head Sydney side for the start of the 2010 and has been a huge success, despite missing the majority of the 2011 season with injury. He was already and established England international, and having debuted for the Bradford Bulls aged only 17 was a star performer in the super league. Sam is a shoe in for selection, and a man the Australian players and management know all about and will genuinely fear.
George was the first of Sam’s three brothers to follow him out to Australia, leaving his twin, Tom to continue his rugby education with the Bulls. Having played in the National Youth competition, it became apparent that George was something special, and in 2012, having just turned 20 he made his NRL debut for the Bunnies.
Despite his youth, and the relative handful of games he has played at senior level, George is being talked about, probably prematurely as one of the top props in the competition, which in itself should have Steve McNamara having him watched week in week out, and, if opinion is to be believed will have him in the England squad come October time.
Luke was the next brother on the plane out to join the Rabbitohs revolution, and despite him picking up Super League grand final winners medals with Leeds Rhinos, he was seen very much as a squad player at the Rhinos, and did not seem to posses the same dynamism as Sam. The oldest, but the smallest of the four brothers at a mere 112kg, he was looking to replicate Sam’s success down under.
In the two seasons Luke has had in the NRL he has not disappointed, and is now a regular starter for the Rabbits, but again, injury has curtailed his game time, which in turn will probably not give him enough of the season to impress McNamara any further. He is scheduled to return in August, which will only give him two months plus the play off series. He will have to hit the ground running and impress every time he is on the pitch to be considered.
The real outside shot for an England jumper, and the brother who has spent the least time with the Bunnies is George’s twin, Tom.
Tom loyally stuck with the Bradford Bulls through the financial trauma which the club went though, playing 46 super league games for the former West Yorkshire powerhouse. He has spent this season so far playing in the New South Wales cup, the second tier competition, and is performing well enough to be on the brink of a call up to the Rabbitohs first team squad.
Again, this will probably not give him enough game time in the elite competition to warrant international selection, especially with other established prop forwards playing regularly in both Super League and the NRL, but the platform will certainly be there for all four brothers to be representing both the Bunnies and England in the not too distant future.
As it stands, Sam and George will be in McNamara’s squad with Luke and Tom just missing out but the Burgess Brothers are an extraordinary family unit who will achieve extraordinary things at an extraordinary club. Sadly, this year’s World Cup may come just too soon for us to see them all on the same international stage.
image: © sazdar