South Sydney co-owner Russell Crowe has backed Sam Burgess to succeed in rugby but suggested the English forward may not have been tempted to switch codes if he had been allowed to play State of Origin for NSW.
Crowe, who was responsible for luring Burgess to the Rabbitohs and ultimately in deciding to release him at the end of the season to pursue a place in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, said the 25-year-old had wanted to play for the Blues.
Burgess, who moved to Australia in 2010 to play for Souths, has regularly spoken of his desire to play Origin and even previously described himself as ‘‘New Souths Welshman’’.
However, a change to the Origin eligibility rules last year requiring players to have resided in the state they wanted to represent before the age of 13 ruled out any chance of Burgess turning out for the Blues – even if he gave up playing for England.
‘‘In rugby league the pinnacle of the game is not a Test jersey, it is State of Origin,’’ Crowe said in an email. ‘‘Sam, by his birthplace, is prevented from competing at that level. A passionate Blues supporter he would have loved to have that opportunity.’’
Burgess attended last season’s Origin series opener at ANZ Stadium with his brothers Luke, George and Tom and said afterwards the atmosphere made him ‘‘envious’’ of the NSW and Queensland players.
He also spoke of his desire to play Origin in an interview with renowned British feature writer Donald McRae during last year’s Rugby League World Cup, which is where the seed for his defection was first planted after a conversation with England assistant coach Andy Farrell.
‘‘I go and watch the Origin games and get goosebumps every time,’’ he said. ‘‘I’d love to do it but it would probably dilute the purity of the game.
I know there’re some Kiwis in there – but it also dilutes the history. Of course I’d love to be on that stage and if the opportunity ever arose I’d want to do it.
‘‘You can tell there’s a real mix of opinion – certainly judging by social media. Some people say they would love to see me play – others think it’s a joke.
There has been a lot of controversy about some of the players who’ve made it but me and Sonny Bill Williams are in the same boat.
We’d love to play State of Origin but probably will never get a chance to do so. I understand the reasons.
’’After being advised of the English approach after Burgess returned from the World Cup in December, Crowe said he understood the reasons the Rabbitohs’ player of the year last season wanted to take up the offer to join Bath at the end of the season.
Describing Burgess as an ‘‘inspiration’’, Crowe said he was thankful for his contribution to Souths in the past four seasons and predicted he would make a similar impact in English rugby union.
‘‘I expect Sam will do well in rugby union,’’ Crowe said. ‘‘He has been an inspirational asset at our club and Bath will benefit from Sam’s presence the same way Souths have.
‘‘He has a long challenging journey in front of him, but he is a competitor and a dedicated professional.‘‘I respect his ambition and I appreciate all he has brought to South Sydney.’’