Rugby League


Twenty years on, Joe Burgess has his relative's blessing to join Sydney Roosters

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Try-scoring machine Joe Burgess isn't related to the Burgess clan who moved from Yorkshire to add starch to South Sydney, but the Sydney Roosters recruit is linked by blood to Englishman Phil Clarke, who made a dramatic impact in the red, white and blue 20 years ago.

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Burgess, who is expected to be named in the Roosters' Auckland Nines squad on Monday, says Clarke is his mother's cousin and despite his career coming to a horrific end because of a spinal injury while he was at the Roosters, he didn't hesitate to encourage the fleet-footed winger to play in Australia.

Clarke broke his neck during the Roosters' 40-2 victory over North Queensland in 1996 when he was only 24 and regarded as the world's best forward. It was only thanks to the quick thinking of the Roosters' medical staff that he was saved from being confined to a wheelchair.

Burgess said despite having a career that promised so much taken away from him in a split-second, his famous cousin, who these days is a leading player agent and television commentator, isn't bitter. He was among a host of players with NRL experience who encouraged the 21-year-old to back himself.

"I spoke to Phil [Clarke] quite a bit before coming out here and he said I'd love every minute of it," said Burgess, who scored 49 tries in the 55 matches he played for Wigan.


"I spoke briefly to [former Rooster and English international] Adrian Morley and his advice was I'd love it so much out here I wouldn't want to go back to England, and that gave me massive confidence.

"I also spoke to Matty Smith [Wigan halfback] and like a few others he said he never had the opportunity to go due to his family commitments. When I spoke to Blake Green [former Parramatta player] he said I should take the chance while I can. I'm not saying he decided for me but he definitely had a big input on it." 

Burgess has previously spoken about the impact former Canterbury winger Brett Dallas had on him when he played for Wigan because, like him, the Aussie had red hair and a seemingly insatiable appetite for scoring tries. However, his desire to play in the NRL was sparked by watching a brand of rugby league he found enthralling.

Burgess piqued the interest of the Roosters recruitment staff three years ago when he scored a sensational try against them in the World Club Challenge. Negotiations for him to play in the NRL began midway through 2014 and an official announcement was made last January.

Burgess appreciated the quickest way for him to become a crowd favourite at Allianz Stadium was to do what he does best and score tries. However, rather than overload on watching hundreds of hours worth of videos of his upcoming opponents he'll simply back himself to do what he did for Wigan to crash through the NRL's defensive lines.

"I don't mind scoring a try now and again ... it'll take some adjustment coming to a different team," he said. "Last year my positioning wasn't too bad so hopefully I can take that into this season; I'm just going to try and bring what I did last year into this year." 

Now he's on the verge of wearing the Roosters battle colours, Burgess said he already knew he'd need to control his excitement and nerves before his debut.

"It's like starting again back at Wigan," he said. "I'd be grateful to get picked because over the past 12 months everything has seemed so surreal.

"Pulling on the Wigan jumper was a huge honour but to join a massive club like the Sydney Roosters I wonder what it will be like  ... to play would be a great achievement for myself and, hopefully, my family's pride as well."