Englishman Tom Burgess: “Losing the 2017 final always hurts. It haunts you’ | England rugby union team
Jthere’s more than national pride at stake for Tom Burgess over the next five weeks. For more than 15 years, the prospect of an England team without the Burgess surname was unthinkable. But even Tom would be the first to admit that he doesn’t plan to be the only survivor of the clan to compete in this year’s World Cup.
So much has changed in the five years since England fell hopelessly to Australia in the last World Cup final: not least in the Burgess family. That day, Tom shared the pitch with his older brother Sam. But he and Tom’s twin, George, have since been forced into an early retirement. The dream of the three brothers representing their country together at a World Cup on home soil this year did not materialize.
It means Tom, now 30 and the last active Burgess brother of the four – the other being their older brother Luke – who won the NRL Grand Final together in 2014 with South Sydney, is not just playing for England, he plays for his family. “Honestly, mate, I’m very proud to be able to represent my family at another World Cup,” Burgess said on the eve of England’s opener against Samoa.
Few players have the chance to compete in two World Cups. On Saturday, Burgess will join a select group of individuals to have appeared in three consecutive tournaments, a remarkable feat few would have expected from Tom when he became the last of four brothers to move to South Sydney in 2013. an honor he takes lightly.
“It’s crazy to think that this is my third time at a World Cup, and it’s certainly not something I take for granted,” he said. “I didn’t really think about it until someone mentioned it recently, but every World Cup I’ve been at a different stage in my career and my life. In 2013 I had 21 and had just finished my first year in the NRL, I guess I was just happy to be there, on reflection.
“But 2017 hurt. We had a real chance to win and we fell awfully close. But this year as a player I feel the best prepared I’ve ever been for a World Cup. I’m excited about how this group came together.
Burgess isn’t the only one feeling the pain of England’s last World Cup. Many of the squad who played out that 6-0 loss to Australia in the 2017 final have expressed their desire to turn things around this year.
“2017 still hurts me, it haunts you, and it probably always will,” he says. “I don’t think I ever watched it completely, the whole game. I can’t do it. It was there for the taking and we just weren’t as clinical as we could have been. All the everyone struggled in this tournament but the most important thing for me was that we had a bond as a group and that was a big part of getting us as far as we have come. I still see it in this group too .
Burgess may see the potential, but not everyone sees it. There has been so much noise about the Pacific nations’ prospects that some pundits have England underdogs for the clash with Samoa on Saturday afternoon. For the first time in a Rugby League World Cup, five teams – Australia, New Zealand, England, Samoa and Tonga – believe they can win the tournament.
Burgess, however, isn’t too worried about England’s chances being understated. “You look at the other teams, there’s a lot of experience in the NRL, so it’s a fair comment that they’re all being talked about,” he said. “But we’re not worried about being the underdogs, we just want to go out there and play: we’ll carry on and let our rugby do the talking. We’re happy that it’s all been said about all the other nations.
He and his family may have been in Australia for a decade, but Burgess hasn’t lost touch with his English roots and knows how much success in this World Cup would elevate the sport at home.
“I keep thinking back to 2013, the last World Cup and how the whole country got behind England…rugby league was huge,” he says. “I’m thrilled to feel that again this year. I want to breathe some life into rugby league in this country because it’s taken a bit of a beating with Covid and other stuff and giving English rugby league fans something to cheer on would mean a lot to me.
The Burgess brothers have achieved a lot in rugby league, individually and as a collective – the 2014 NRL Grand Final is a piece of sporting history that may never be repeated. But Tom admits there is one thing missing from their family mantle and the responsibility of putting it in place rests solely on his shoulders.
“Success with England is perhaps the one thing we haven’t achieved, and the pinnacle of the game for me remains international rugby,” he said. “That’s near the top of my to-do list, to be successful with England. The last time I was here and we beat New Zealand in the Test series in 2018, it was It’s still one of my fondest memories in the game. Replicating that success in a World Cup would mean everything.