Missed opportunities are driving factor for in-form Burgess

England's Tom Burgess has been a key part of their run to the Rugby League World Cup semi-finals (Getty Images for RLWC 2021)
England's Tom Burgess has been a key part of their run to the Rugby League World Cup semi-finals (Getty Images for RLWC 2021)

By James Toney

Five years ago Tom Burgess sat in the bowels of Brisbane's 'Cauldron' - as above him it bubbled and boiled in giddy celebration of an Australian World Cup win - and started plotting revenge.

England had fallen short in their first Rugby League World Cup final appearance in 22 years, losing 6-0 as the Kangaroos reclaimed their title.

Burgess - sat alongside older brother Sam - knew one thing for certain. He didn't want to feel like that again.

"That World Cup final is something that I do look at as an opportunity missed and I definitely have that as a driving factor for me this time," he said.

"You definitely draw on your past experiences in your career and that one really hurt because of how close we got.

"I've never watched it back, I've never wanted to. That group had a really special bond and sometimes that's hard to recreate but I see that bond in this team as well."

The Burgess name - also represented by Tom’s twin George - has been the foundation of England teams for more than a decade and a half. They had hoped to all be here on home soil before premature retirements and George’s early release from St George Illawarra Dragons left Tom as the last man standing, making a rare third World Cup appearance.

He was barely out his teens and still an NRL rookie when he played in the 2013 edition, admitting he was just happy to be there. Four years later he was a core part of coach Wayne Bennett's team, a position he's maintained under Shaun Wane.

"I think for each World Cup I have been at a different stage in my life and in my career," he added

"I've come in with an open mind and I wanted to get amongst it with the boys and get here as soon as I could, it was my first time working with Waney so there were quite a few unknowns.

"I was just really happy with the way we've seemed to get better and better as we have gone on."

Burgess has been in bulldozing form in England's campaign to date, with four tries putting him behind only Dominic Young and Tommy Makinson on the scoring charts.

Had it not been for Makinson's five-try haul in the quarter-final, Burgess would surely have been judged best on ground, he was both untouchable and unstoppable as England flew out the traps. When he was rested, result assured, England's potency levels tellingly dropped.

While wingers Young and Makinson have made headlines with their tries, the foundation to England's success has been the work rate of their unsung heroes, underlined by the selfless play of captain Sam Tomkins.

Tomkins has also taken charge off the pitch, working with Wane to create an infectious spirit in the camp. Under the pressure of the 'home disadvantage', England's rugby union team buckled when they hosted their World Cup in 2015. Sam Burgess was part of that team and has spoken previously of the 'politics' that conspired against the campaign, something you won't find in Wane's camp.

"I've got four in four games but I'm not really counting," jokes Burgess.

"I might get thrown out of the front row union if I score again this weekend, I am not too fussed, to be honest, we don't really acknowledge tries in the team.

"It is more about the little areas that we do in the forwards and I want to keep doing them, that is what we are focussed on.

"I really appreciate when I come back in with the English lads, but this time around there has been really something about it.

"What's great about England is how close-knit the group is, the you come back into it from your Australian club it's like coming home.

"I really appreciate the culture and we're enjoying it and the new lads in the team have embraced what we are doing too. The spirit is great but when it comes down to business, it's about getting the job done."

The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets