Rabbitohs forward Sam Burgess will lead England in the Four Nations.
Rabbitohs forward Sam Burgess will lead England in the Four Nations. DARREN PATEMAN

Big Sam's cross-code feat swept under the carpet

RUGBY LEAGUE: Maybe it's because it happened on the other side of the world, but last week a history-making appointment was announced that raised barely a whisper among the Aussie media.

When transplanted England coach Wayne Bennett crowned Sam Burgess skipper of the Poms for the upcoming Four Nations tournament, Big Sam became the first league-union-league convert to captain his national team.

And, just to add some lustre to his selection, he becomes just the third player of his ilk to switch from rugby league to become a rugby union international, and then return to play for his country at Test level again. His two predecessors were Brad Thorn and Sonny Bill Williams.

But while the respective journeys of Thorn and Williams were absolutely spectacular, Burgess has topped them both with his captaincy appointment.

To be invited back into the English team following his sabbatical is one feather in his cap. To be named skipper - and without a whiff of controversy - says much more about the man, and his leadership qualities.

Bennett has, let us not forget, overlooked long-term Bulldogs skipper James Graham to give Burgess the job.

For those who don't recall, Sam Burgess was induced to rugby when offered a poultice by renowned English club Bath in 2014. He went on to win five caps for England and played in what was a disastrous home World Cup for the Poms in 2015. And it was mainly Burgess who was pilloried for the calamity, so he returned to the Rabbitohs, where he had won a premiership in 2014.

Before him it was Thorn, who had won premierships for the Broncos and played Tests for Australia and Origin for Queensland, that became the pioneer of the league-union-league switch. But he went one better by returning to union and finishing his unbelievable career back with the All Blacks.

And who knows what Williams may still achieve. Having already completed the league-union-league-union conversion, rumours abound that - at 31 - he may still have time on his side to have a third crack at rugby league.

Like Thorn, his has been a phenomenal journey. Not only has he won two NRL premierships with different clubs during two stints five years apart, but he has won 33 caps for the All Blacks to go with his 15 Tests for the Kiwis, and also played in six international rugby sevens tournaments, including the recent Rio Olympics.

Add to that his stint in boxing, in which he claimed the New Zealand heavyweight title, and the question begs to be asked - has any sportsperson, in modern times, achieved such success in a variety of sports?

While Sam Burgess won't reach those heights, when he leads England out against the Kiwis to open the Four Nations at Huddersfield on Saturday morning he will be the first league-union-league convert to captain his country on return to the fold. And that, by any standards, is an achievement that did not deserve to be swept under the sporting carpet.

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