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Sam Burgess’ defection to rugby union shouldn’t stop him receiving the 2014 Golden Boot award as the best player in rugby league.
It would create a few headlines, put a couple of noses out of joint, but so what. Burgess deserves the accolade after an outstanding season.
Johnathan Thurston won the award in 2013, and he also claimed it in 2011. He was a worthy winner last year after killing it at the World Cup, in State of Origin and leading the Cowboys to the NRL semi-finals.
Burgess, Greg Inglis, James Graham, Shaun Johnson and Jess Bromwich join Thurston as the six candidates for the gong. Each have valid claims to the Golden Boot, but Burgess should get it.
‘Slamming Sammy’ was simply sensational in 2014. He led South Sydney to its first grand final in four decades. He dominated the NRL, the toughest competition in the world. He scored 10 tries in 23 appearances, an impressive effort for a forward.
This season the 25-year old ran for an average of 168 metres per game. Burgess got through 14.7 hit-ups every 80 minutes, 34.5 tackles and averaged 2.3 offloads per match. Whether he was in the front or the back row, those are some herculean numbers.
In contrast his compatriot, James Graham, crossed for four tries in 24 games. Graham averaged 141.8 run metres, 14.3 hit-ups, 35.3 tackles and 0.4 offloads.
The other forward in the list, Kiwi Jesse Bromwich, recorded two tries in 21 appearances, averaged 145.4 run metres, 12.7 hit-ups, 28 tackles and 2.1 offloads.
Burgess, like his Rabbitohs teammate Inglis, was a standout in club colours. But the Golden Boot is considered on international and club performances, not just one of those two.
The Englishman missed the Four Nations, where others starred.
Inglis, while carving it up at the NRL level, didn’t enjoy his best Origin series or Four Nations. You could say at the end of the year tournament he looked tired and out of sorts.
Bromwich and Kiwi halfback Shaun Johnson are on the list because they were the key members who led New Zealand to the Four Nations crown. Johnson was outstanding in the four games of the competition, but his NRL season was inconsistent, with the Warriors failing to make the eight again.
Thurston missed the Four Nations, was quiet in Origin compared with his norm, but utterly brilliant in the NRL. Again North Queensland were knocked out in the semi-finals, unable to reach the grand final.
Graham was also a revelation for the Bulldogs, leading them into the decider. But ultimately his team fell short, as England did at the Four Nations.
Burgess deserves the Golden Boot because of not only what he did on the field, but the way he inspired his teammates, playing through pain and injury to deliver long-awaited premiership glory.
He was a weapon in both defence and attack, able to pump up his players with either a bone-rattling hit or set up a try with a line-breaking run. His strength, his skill, his determination, his passion, Burgess was the complete package this year.
He shrugged off any doubts about Souths’ handling of big-game pressure, cast aside the weight of the club’s history and got the Redfern outfit over the line. He put aside the poor on-field acts that dogged him in 2013 to deliver the Rabbitohs the ultimate prize. When he got the Clive Churchill medal – the first Pom to do so – it was a just reward.
So would be the Golden Boot. He might be a Bath player now, with an eye on the 2015 Rugby World Cup and meetings with ex-leaguies like Sonny Bill Williams and Israel Folau, but that doesn’t erase what he achieved on the field this year.
Enforcer, entertainer, England’s finest, the best rugby league player in the world – all titles Samuel Burgess deserves.
Follow John Davidson on Twitter @johnnyddavidson