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England calling for Burgess quartet
Sam Burgess will be the biggest name missing from the autumn internationals but his brothers will be doing their best to make up for his absence.
Older sibling Luke is hoping to win his first England cap against Wales on Saturday week, while 20-year-old twins Tom and George are set to blaze a trail with the Knights in Belfast this Saturday.
Sam will be watching with interest from 12,000 miles away in Australia as he recuperates from minor knee surgery, no doubt dreaming of the day he gets the chance to play alongside all three of his brothers.
Sam has already turned out for South Sydney alongside Luke and George, and next year there will be the distinct prospect of all four appearing in the same team when Tom takes up a 12-month contract with the Rabbitohs.
The big moment could come in 12 months’ time when England prepare to host the 2013 World Cup, with the Burgess brothers desperately hoping to make it a family affair.
“We’ve spoken about it,” said George, who flew back from Sydney last Wednesday to take his place in the England Knights squad.
“It would be a great achievement as a family and it’s not out of our reach. We can do it if we put our minds to it.”
If it happens, it would surely make Julie Burgess the proudest mum in the world.
“She’s head over heels at the minute,” George said. “All four boys being picked for England, she’s as proud as punch.”
Julie, who is now on first-name terms with Hollywood actor Russell Crowe after joining Sam for his first meeting with South Sydney’s famous co-owner at a film set in Nottinghamshire in 2009, is a vice-principal at a Leeds school - but not for much longer.
“She’s working up to Christmas and then she’s going to emigrate to Australia,” said George. “There’s no reason for her to stay here.”
The Burgess brothers grew up in Liversedge, with Julie and their father Mark, a forward with a number of lower-league clubs such as Hunslet and Nottingham who died from motor neurone disease early in 2007.
Sam, who acted as a carer for his father until his death, was the first to flee the nest to link up with Crowe’s famous club four years ago and has become something of a superstar in Sydney.
George and Luke are inevitably living in his shadow but there is not a hint of jealousy, only signs of a genuine affection and admiration for a player who has earned the respect of his Australian peers.
“He’s a big name in Australia and he’s every right to be because of the way he plays,” said George, speaking at an England Knights’ training session at Leigh.
“I was honoured to make my debut alongside him and Luke. I suppose there are expectations on us from other people but I try not to worry about that.
“I’m proud to learn from my brothers - they’ve been very good to me.”
George had not broken through to the Bulls senior team when he took the decision to try his luck in Australia, and he has no doubt that Tom will similarly benefit from the move in 2013.
“Tom chose to stay at Bradford, where he had ambitions in Super League,” George said.
“He wanted to make a name for himself over here before joining us but he’s hoping it will improve his game, and I know it will.
“There are three pretty good competitions over there, with the under-20s and reserve grade in the New South Wales Cup, which are not far off Super League.”
George eventually made the breakthrough into Souths’ NRL team and, after three substitute appearances, was set to make his full debut when illness cruelly struck him down.
“I had a hole in my intestines and had to go into hospital for major surgery,” he said.
“I lost 15 kilos because I couldn’t eat and I was out for six weeks. It wasn’t publicised at the time because the surgeons reckoned it was caused by some anti-inflammatories and the club were worried about the sponsors.
“It was really bad timing because I was going to be starting that week against St George. It set me back quite a bit. There’s a really competitive environment. There’s always someone there waiting to take your spot.
“But I managed to get back for the last few games of the season, and hopefully I’ll be back stronger next year.”
George has to report back for pre-season training under head coach Michael Maguire, the former Wigan boss, on November 5 but before then is hoping to make his mark with the Knights, who take on Ireland on Saturday and meet Scotland in Edinburgh on October 28.
“It was always a goal to get into the squad and play some games so I was chuffed to get the call-up,” he said.
“I’ve had a really successful year personally under Michael Maguire, who has brought my game on, and now I’m topping it off with England.”