sam burgess - NRL sam burgess - NRL
sam burgess - NRL sam burgess - NRL

Five players Sam Burgess can’t wait to watch


I remember playing against him in 2018 out at Penrith on a balmy Friday night under lights.

He was just 20 years of age, and I chased him all night to try to put him off his game, especially on last plays.

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I remember hitting the little raw-boned halfback almost simultaneously as he kicked the ball. Despite giving away 40kg to me in weight, he simply got up and carried on as if nothing had happened.

There were also a few times I didn't manage to get to him.

Regardless of my attempts, he hit five or six high-floating bombs which resulted in four or five dropped catches in our back field. It's fair to say that after that, he had my respect.

Nathan Cleary has to make Penrith his own team. Photo: AAP Image/Richard Wainwright
Nathan Cleary has to make Penrith his own team. Photo: AAP Image/Richard Wainwright

I made a point of going to see him after the game to commend him on what I thought was a clinical and tough performance from a young man. Since then he has played some great games and some would say he has been quiet in others.

The drama surrounding his father Ivan returning as head coach, and how that played out in the media, must have taken a toll.

But here we are, in 2020. His mad little mate James Maloney is in the south of France drinking hot chocolates and eating croissants and Nathan has the team to himself. It's now time for him to own the team.

Yes, I'm gone, but a queue of forwards will be lining him up every Friday night. He will need to find the composure and desire he showed a few years ago to handle that.

It's now his reality in the NRL and his job is to overcome the extra responsibility and become the player we all know he can.

Watch this space.

Dean Britt can be a surprise package for the Bulldogs. Photo: AAP Image/Richard Wainwright
Dean Britt can be a surprise package for the Bulldogs. Photo: AAP Image/Richard Wainwright


The son of former Australian international Darren Britt is a name to keep your eye out for this season at Canterbury. A smoky.

If he can keep himself fit and healthy, I think he will become a crowd favourite at Belmore.

During his time at South Sydney, he was tough and uncompromising.

I remember training against him and thinking what a raw-boned, awkward bloke he was to handle. He looks like he has been dragged from the local pub but plays like he could run through the local pub.

During the Nines he looked fit and ready for a big season.

He is an old-school player who plays above his weight with and without the ball. He doesn't shy away from contact and loves the tough stuff - a dying breed in the modern era but every team needs one.

He welcomes contact without much preservation for his body. Not once did he let me down on the field and he always found a way to win the collision, which I loved. It's a skill you cannot teach men but one every coach and player values.

The Dogs will be in for a treat if Big Red consistently gets himself into the action for the Doggies.

Kikau can leave rivals in his wake. Photo: Will Russell/Getty Images
Kikau can leave rivals in his wake. Photo: Will Russell/Getty Images


At 195cm and 118kg, Big Billy is one of the biggest and most agile players in the NRL - not to mention he has soft hands.

He has the ability to play both before and through the line.

If you watched the Nines you could not help but get excited for what's to come over the next nine months.

He played left edge for the Panthers and showed his ability to skip outside his defending player with the ball in one hand. Or he can use that powerful left-foot step back against the grain and take the defenders back on their inside shoulders.

After that, he can offload while in trouble and surrounded by defenders.

I remember playing against him last season at Panthers Stadium. I was right edge, which means I was defending Big Billy. My mentality was to get into him early and see how he reacted.

It's fair to say that I hit him with the best I had a couple of times and he rode the contact extremely well.

If I remember rightly, Adam Reynolds missed seven tackles on him that night and I missed four. He's one hard man to handle.

He can play before the line with short passing and the vision of a halfback. He also has speed and athleticism that are almost unstoppable.

With only 52 NRL games under his belt, Big Billy's challenge will be to hold his form from start to finish.

If he can do that, look out for a huge breakout year from the Fijian international who is the closest rival to Jason Taumalolo from North Queensland.

Taumalolo looks like he’s stepped up a level. Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images
Taumalolo looks like he’s stepped up a level. Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images


With more than 200 career games, including Test matches for Tonga and New Zealand, Big JT is, in my opinion, the greatest forward running around in the NRL at the moment.

Dally M medallist in 2016, lock of the year in 2015-16 and 2018.

Blockbusting performances for Tonga over the past three years, which led them to make history at the end of last year when they beat Australia in New Zealand.

He single-handedly nearly clawed Tonga back in the semi-final of the 2017 World Cup against England, swatting off numerous players to break us open. It is almost too easy for him sometimes.

I've always enjoyed my tussles with Jason, but sometimes I have lost the physical battle. That's sport.

He is the most difficult player to handle. Regardless of your plan and the numbers affecting a tackle, his strength and athleticism can make him unstoppable.

Watching him at ground level last weekend at the Nines in Perth, he doesn't look like he's slowing down. If anything, he looks to have gone to another level.

His change of pace and ability to move direction, preferably off his right foot - double stepping at times into the defensive line - are what make him so destructive.

Not to mention he is 185cm tall and weighs 115kg.

What a player. Watch out for a blockbusting 2020 from the new JT in Townsville.

Will Valentine Holmes rediscover his best form? Photo: Alix Sweeney
Will Valentine Holmes rediscover his best form? Photo: Alix Sweeney


After spending a full season out of the NRL, can Val reach the form we all saw him produce for the Sharks, Queensland and the Kangaroos before he jetted off?

You cannot underestimate what spending 12 months away from such a rigorous competition as the NRL will do to a player.

It's uncompromising, tough, physical and always evolving.

Having done the same myself in 2015, I know the demands on "catching back up".

In my first session back with South Sydney at the back end of 2015, I was blown away by the speed and skill of the forwards and found it hard to read plays on the go.

Those same plays I was reading in my sleep 12 months before. It's hard to comprehend and also hurts your ego.

Despite the fact that Val is playing in the outside backs, I cannot help but think it may take him a few weeks, or even a couple of months, before we see him take off again.

I'm not doubting his ability because we all know what he is capable of, but the NRL is a different machine.

I'm hearing he is bigger, fitter, faster and stronger after his stint at the New York Jets.

I wish him well and cannot wait to see the impact he has on the game this year. Sit tight.

In May, Sam Burgess is cycling from Niagara Falls to Manhattan to raise funds for Rugby League Cares and former teammate Rob Burrow, who has Motor Neurone Disease. To donate:

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