Sam Burgess will be the first player picked in Wayne Bennett’s World All Stars team, provided the dual-code international is back next year in the NRL.
However, that’s looking increasingly unlikely with NRL head of football Todd Greenberg emphatically ruling out dipping into the game’s ‘war chest’ to help fund the former South Sydney premiership hero’s return.
Burgess is said to be contemplating a rugby league comeback but, to do that, the 26-year-old needs to negotiate a release from the final two years of his contract with English rugby union club Bath.
Granted a 10-day break to assess his future after England’s horrendous Rugby World Cup campaign, Burgess returned to training with Bath on Monday and, according to his coach Mike Ford, hasn’t asked to leave.
But if he does manage to find the exit, one man in particular will be over the moon – Bennett, who will coach the newly rebranded World All Stars in next year’s NRL pre-season extravaganza at Suncorp Stadium.
Set to take on the Indigenous All Stars on February 13, the World All Stars will feature a minimum of four NRL players each from Australia, New Zealand and England, with the captains of each of those national teams automatic selections.
“He’d be good,” Bennett said when asked if he’d like Burgess in his team.
“He played actually (in the All Stars match) the first year he came out to Australia. I picked him then before he played a game of rugby league.
“He loved the week – I remember him coming to me afterwards and thanking me.
“I think it also helped the players in our team get to know him … Sam’s a great player and a good bloke, and I think that was a big stepping stone for him as he started his NRL career.
“If he’s available, you can put him down.”
But Greenberg poured cold water on any possibility of the NRL contributing towards Burgess’ release fee at Bath, or the reported $1.5 million salary he would earn back in Australia.
Asked if the NRL’s designated fund for marquee players could be used to bring players back to the NRL, instead of just keeping them in the competition, Greenberg said: “It can be, but it won’t be.”
“I just don’t think that’s what it’s designed for.
“I think when it was announced, the CEO (Dave Smith) said at the time it might be something that might be once a decade.
“This is not the example it would be used for.”
Bennett quickly chimed in: “The problem is we don’t have a CEO to make a decision.”