Former Rugby League Golden Boot winner Kevin Sinfield has leapt to the defence of Sam Burgess and blasted former rugby union players for having “a cheap shot” at his old team-mate.
Burgess was heavily criticised following England’s pool-stage exit at the Rugby World Cup and is thought to be considering his future in the 15-man code.
He made replacement appearances against Fiji and Australia and one start in the loss to Wales, which led to a brutal assessment from ex-Ireland centre Gordon D’Arcy, who claimed Burgess’ “naivety embarrassed those around him”.
Bath head coach Mike Ford revealed Burgess “didn’t quite feel right” upon his return to club duty and was subsequently given time off, fuelling speculation that he was set to leave union just 12 months into his three-year contract at the Recreation Ground.
Burgess reported for training on Monday and Ford is confident he will stay, but the former South Sydney Rabbitohs talisman has yet to make a statement on his future.
Fellow code-hopper Sinfield, who captained Burgess at international level in league, believes rugby union would regret chasing the 26-year-old away.
“It’d be a huge waste to let him go,” said Sinfield, who has just begun his union career with Yorkshire Carnegie.
“Possibly they don’t realise what they’ve got on their hands at the minute. I’m sure Stuart Lancaster, Andy Farrell and everyone involved with England do. I’m sure Mike Ford at Bath knows what he’s got on his hands as well.
“It’s really, really easy to criticise, especially in this age now where everyone’s on social media and has an opinion.
“The big disappointment for a lot of people who know Sam is the number of ex-players – who don’t know him and understand enough about Sam – that have come out and had a bit of a cheap shot towards him.
“I think he’s done extremely well – to play in a World Cup after just 12 months in the game is remarkable.
“He’d be a huge loss to rugby but I’m a rugby league supporter as well and it’d be great to see him back in the game.”
As well as being linked with a return to the NRL with South Sydney, where he would be reunited with brothers Tom and George, treble winners Leeds Rhinos have expressed their interest in signing the former Bradford forward.
“I know he’s been linked with the Rhinos and as a Rhinos supporter now it’d be a fantastic signing,” said Sinfield, the most successful captain in Leeds’ history.
England rugby league coach Steve McNamara senses there could soon be further developments in the long-running saga and is hoping they result in the former Bradford prop being available for the 2016 Four Nations Series.
“I’ve got nothing confirmed but I do think there’s things happening,” McNamara said at a media briefing at the England training base at St George’s Park in Burton-on-Trent.
“He makes his own mind up and then goes with it.
“I’d be glad he’s back in rugby league if he does come back. The sport needs characters like him. If he does, then it’s great for the game.”