Exclusive - Slammin’ Sam Burgess talks leaving retirement for noble cause

Former dual-code international Sam Burgess is ready to venture out of retirement… but for one game only.

Neil Goulding
Neil Goulding

Last Updated: 2024-02-16

Louis Hobbs

3 minutes read

Former dual-code international Sam Burgess is ready to venture out of retirement… but for one game only.

“Slammin’ Sam” hung up his boots in 2019 due to a chronic shoulder injury, aged just 30. But as he steps back into rugby league as the head coach of Betfred Super League outfit, Warrington Wolves, a cause close to his heart could tempt him back onto a pitch.

Indeed, he has urged rugby league bosses to consider arranging a ‘clash of the codes’ charity match to raise funds for and awareness of motor neurone disease.

Mark Burgess, a former player and father to Sam and his three brothers, Tom, George, and Luke, died from the disease, aged 45, in 2012. However, the profile of this incurable condition which significantly shortens life expectancy, has been raised in recent years.

Former Scottish rugby union international Doddie Weir OBE, who died in November 2022, helped launch the My Name'5 Doddie Foundation. One-time Premier League footballers Marcus Stewart and Stephen Darby have regularly spoken about their ongoing battles with MND, and two former England RL teammates of Burgess – Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield – have been at the centre of a massive publicity and fund-raising drive around motor neurone disease.

Burrow was diagnosed in December 2019, and his ex-Leeds Rhinos captain Sinfield has since raised more than £8 million for MND with a series of long-distance running challenges.

Now, Burgess is ready to keep the momentum going, and is backing the return of a dual-code concept last played in 1996.

All the support it can get

“Anything I can do to help with MND, I will certainly be behind,” confirmed the 35-year-old former Bradford Bulls and South Sydney Rabbitohs favourite. “We lost our father to motor neurone disease. It needs all the support it can get.

“I think a cross-code match is a great idea. Hopefully, we can get some weight behind that and I will certainly support it. Even if it means putting the boots on and having a run around to get it going.

“That would be the main reason to raise awareness and funds for MND and to get behind such a great cause.”

“I am sure they could do a bit more of a fun version of it with retired players. It would be hard to get current players to play; but a combined game or something fun, I am sure would get off the ground.”

Wigan and Bath were involved in the original cross-code clash. A Wigan side, including Martin Offiah and Jason Robinson, triumphed 82-6 for the League at Maine Road. The union return was hosted by Twickenham with Bath, including Mike Catt and Phil de Glanville, restoring some pride with a 44-19 success.

Ironically, Bath persuaded Burgess to swap codes for an ill-fated, 12-month union career that saw the League poster boy win five England caps. However, he was largely pilloried in the 15-a-side ranks for his performances in the 2015 World Cup, particularly England’s defeat to Wales.

However, his many supporters happily point out that England were in front when he was substituted 12 minutes from time. While he has no regrets about his crossover, Burgess smiled about possible post-match analysis to any future comeback.

“It would be funny to see what they say in the press afterwards,” he laughed. “But I enjoyed my time and I think this (cross-code game) is a great idea.”

Neil Goulding
Neil GouldingSenior Sports Reporter

Neil has been a journalist for longer than he'd care to remember, having written for national newspapers and respected publications for over 25 years. For the last three years he has worked freelance for BBC Sport, working on the production desk as a sub-editor and also as a writer, covering a whole range of sports.