Queensland Reds coach Richard Graham says Sam Burgess faces an incredibly difficult challenge to make the 2015 rugby World Cup.
There’s serious doubts within rugby union circles that league superstar Sam Burgess can adapt quick enough to make England’s team for next year’s World Cup.
Souths forward Burgess has announced he’ll leave the Rabbitohs at the end of this year’s NRL season and play for Bath in England’s rugby premiership.
That will give him less than 11 months to make the transition to play in the 2015 World Cup for the host nation.
Queensland Reds coach Richard Graham, a former assistant coach at Bath and also the Wallabies, doubts Burgess could master the nuances of rugby well enough for the cut-throat, global showpiece tournament.
“I think the transition will be a tough one for him,” Graham said on Monday.
“His aspirations of going to the World Cup are going to be challenging, to say the least.
“There’s no doubt he’s a big physical guy, a very good athlete and a real professional in the way he goes about his training so he’ll give himself a chance. But I think probably the timing will be against him.
“He has to find a position and develop a skill-set there.”
Reports out of England have suggested Bath and England coach Stuart Lancaster want to develop Burgess into an inside centre.
Graham hinted the bullocking league front-rower may not have the polish and poise in his passing and attacking game to shine at No.12 work immediately.
Former Great Britain league skipper Andy Farrell also switched to that position in rugby when he crossed codes in 2005.
But Farrell had more time – two years – and more experience as a ball-player to make his mark at inside centre for the 2007 World Cup.
Graham said: “I was fortunate to coach Andy Farrell when he crossed from Wigan to Saracens at the time but he was a guy who played No.6 (five-eighth) a fair bit in rugby league and a really good thinker and very good skill set.
“He was renowned in English rugby league and internationally and at that time he played No.8 (lock), which also distributed the ball at that period, and he came with a good understanding of the game and how to manipulate defences.”
If Souths make the NRL finals then Burgess would likely miss the first six to eight rounds of the English premiership and only have four months to impress to make England’s squad for the Six Nations – which will provide their main selection rehearsals for the World Cup.
Sonny Bill Williams enjoyed a three-year apprenticeship, including an initial two seasons in France, before playing at the 2011 World Cup but he was largely a bench-warmer for the All Blacks.
Another former NRL star, Brad Thorn, found his road even tougher, struggling in his debut season in 2001 after leaving the Brisbane Broncos, turning down and All Black jersey that year because he didn’t believe he deserved it.
But former Great Britain rugby league halfback Mike Ford, to coach Burgess at Bath, is confident the big Yorkshireman has the qualities to make a successful transition.
“He’s hard working, a huge presence both on and off the field, and an ambitious young Englishman,” Ford said.