Sam Burgess could not have timed his return to Redfern any better.
The dual international’s comeback to the NRL and South Sydney comes at a time when workaholic backrowers are expected to have as great an influence on the game as almost any time in its history.
The reduction of interchanges from 10 to eight has many predicting the return of the Bradley Clyde-style hard-running, ball-playing lock and Burgess certainly fits that mould.
Burgess was the NRL’s best player in 2014 when South Sydney finally ended their 43-year premiership drought.
Without the rampaging forward Souths spluttered through much of the back half of 2015, before Cronulla put them out of their misery with an elimination final loss in the first week of the playoffs.
Now after a lacklustre year away in rugby union Slamming Sammy is back.
The fatigue factor is also back in rugby league and that is what Burgess wants.
“I enjoy rugby but I think deep down rugby league gives me something different to rugby union,” Burgess said.
“I think in rugby league you play with passion and heart and that’s more where my heart lies, with rugby league.”
“League has taken me to places I’d never been before (in terms of fatigue) but I never felt that in union.”
Greg Inglis is also crucial to the Rabbitohs’ hopes and in the superstar fullback and Burgess the Rabbitohs boast arguably two of the five top players in the game.
Like Burgess, Inglis’ ability to inspire and rally those around him is one of his greatest traits.
Souths are contenders in 2016, no doubt. But how they cover for the loss of Issac Luke’s attacking thrust out of dummy half will be crucial.
Cameron McInnes and Damien Cook will vie for the No.9 jersey but Luke was critical to so much of Souths’ attacking structure, meaning coach Michael Maguire will have to vary his game-plan accordingly. Halves Luke Keary and Adam Reynolds will need to lift here too.
Out wide is where Souths also look vulnerable.
Apart from Inglis and winger Alex Johnston the Rabbitohs lack class in the three-quarter line after Dylan Walker’s exit.
But Maguire sees those unknowns out wide and at hooker as a positive.
“We have plenty of competition for spots and that can only be a good thing to bring out the best in the players,” he said.
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS
Premierships: 21 – 1908, 1909, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1931, 1932, 1950, 1951, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1971, 2014
Finishes over the past three seasons: 2015 – elimination finalists, 2014 – Premiers, 2013 – preliminary finalists
Coach: Michael Maguire
Captain: Greg Inglis
Gains: Sam Burgess (rugby union), Damien Cook (Bulldogs), Dane Nielsen (Dragons), Hymel Hunt (Storm)
Losses: Issac Luke (Warriors), Dylan Walker (Sea Eagles), Glenn Stewart (Catalans Dragons), Chris McQueen, (Titans), Tim Grant (Wests Tigers)
Strengths: In Sam Burgess and Greg Inglis Souths boast two genuine superstars, capable of virtually winning matches on their own,
Weakness: Replacing Issac Luke’s thrust out of dummy half will be coach Michael Maguire’s biggest challenge.
Best team: Greg Inglis, Alex Johnston, Bryson Goodwin, Hymel Hunt, John Olive, Luke Keary, Adam Reynolds, George Burgess, Cameron McInnes, Dave Tyrrell, Kyle Turner, John Sutton, Sam Burgess. Interchange: Tom Burgess, Chris Grevsmuhl, Paul Carter, Jason Clark.
Predicted finish: (7th)