“I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m Wayne Bennett.”
Sam Burgess is holding court before the media for the first time as head coach of the Warrington Wolves.
Assured, matter-of-fact and speaking with a wealth of self belief to disprove his doubters - Burgess is telling The Sportsman how a universally-respected player can command respect as a coach, when he has never coached.
“For me it is about being authentic,” Burgess explains.
“I’m my own style of coach, I will learn and listen but I will also follow my instincts with the way I want to coach.
“I have a small bit of experience which I think might also stand in my favour,” the Great Britain legend adds, having learned the ropes as an assistant coach at the NRL club where he achieved greatness, South Sydney Rabbitohs.
“I’m not trapped in any old ways of doing things. I have a fresh mind, a fresh approach and probably a fresh relationship with the players.”
Burgess remains one of the biggest names in world rugby and Warrington’s summer move to make the 34-year old the youngest coach in the Betfred Super League made exactly the headlines The Wolves would have expected.
At the time it felt like fantasy. Now it is real.
Burgess is here, having arrived to live in the north west of England for his first ever crack at head coaching. And he’s doing it in the unforgiving glare of Super League’s greatest under-achievers. Even for a club that likes to do things a little differently, this feels like an enormous risk.
“I think it shows bravery and courage from the people in charge,” Burgess admits to The Sportsman, having made the initial call to Warrington himself to open dialogue about succeeding Daryl Powell.
“What has been happening in the past hasn’t worked so sometimes you have to step outside the box and try something different, and I guess that’s me.”
Burgess has always been inspired by proving the doubters wrong.
Whether as the boy from Bradford would would dominate the NRL, the cross code fall boy thrown to the wolves by England rugby union, or through the off-field controversies that have dogged his retirement years in Australia.
This is a man who thrives on the opportunity to make a strong response.
“One thing I won’t do is let down the guys who have employed me,” he adds. “I will be really committed to them and to the team moving forward.”
Having led Super League under Powell at Easter before a collapse that triggered both the coaching change and a scrape into the top six, Warrington know this Burgess gamble has to pay off.
But what he lacks in experience, Burgess makes up for in his contacts book, having worked with some of the greatest players and two of the great coaches during his South Sydney career.
“I’m really lucky to have a lot of relationships built over my career and a lot of them were really helpful. Michael Maguire I had a great time with as a coach and he had great success with Wigan. Then with Wayne Bennett we speak almost daily at the moment about a number of things.
“It’s about having good people around you that you trust and people outside of the sporting world who I lean on for guidance with decision-making and leadership.
But essentially a lot of it will be my methodology and my approach as I think that’s the only way it will work.”
Burgess admits the decision to relocate away from family and friends was as difficult as the change of scenery.
“I walked around Lymm Dam on Saturday morning and it was different to walking down the coast or in the eastern suburbs of Australia. It was difficult leaving but I am super excited for the opportunity, the club and the town. I think the pros outway the cons, I just need to get used to the weather.”
As he prepares to start work with his new players next week, Burgess admits he doesn’t yet know what a Sam Burgess team will look or play like. He instead alludes to tidying up “technicals” in their play, and building upon the “spirit and fight” that saw the Wolves rescue a playoff place at the end of this season.
But what will represent success, for a Super League club so starved of it, and for a rookie head coach so used to it as a player?
“If this place is in a better position from when I arrive to when I move on,” he says.
“I’ve sensed a bit of disappointment through the town and I think that Warrington deserve better. “I’m not coming here to blow this place up, I’m coming here to make them better.”
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