“He’d make our best side,” said McCarthy of Burgess, as he watched Souths put through their final paces at Redfern Oval on Thursday alongside another club great, Michael Cleary.
“He was a lock last year, and I said to Ron Coote [before Burgess had been shifted to the second row), ‘You know Sam Burgess would make our top side, and you’d have to go to the bench’. He said, ‘Why me?’, and I said, ‘Because he plays loose forward, and you’re a loose forward’.
“He said, ‘Get stuffed, what about you?’, and I said, ‘You can’t put me out, I’m Bob McCarthy’.”
The other back-rower in Souths’ greatest team, George Treweek, played in the 1920s and, according to McCarthy, ”was so good they only needed five forwards”.
McCarthy said Burgess would learn how to shift the ball and even backed his brothers, George and Tom, to make the successful move to an edge because of their speed and size.
“Anyone that big and fast, I’d play them on an edge, especially up near the line where you can stand in tackles and offload. They’re built like skyscrapers the three of them,” McCarthy said.
“With Sam, if you go back 10 years, the first time you saw Sam Burgess was playing for England against Australia, he made a break and came to Billy Slater, who is one of the greatest fullbacks of all time, and Billy grabbed him and then there was fresh air.
“He used a left-foot step, everyone looked at the program and thought ‘Sam Burgess’. But he hasn’t produced it since. I’ll say to Sam, ‘When is the left foot coming out?’, and he says, ‘Shortly’.
“I don’t know when ‘shortly’ will be. I don’t remind other people about it because we’ll try to keep it for the grand final. That will be a secret weapon near the line – they’ll think he’s coming and then the team will jump on the other line.”
Burgess was impressive in his first game for Souths on the right edge, denying Roosters captain Boyd Cordner a certain try, bagging one himself, and frustrating Latrell Mitchell with his power game.
Souths coach Wayne Bennett played Burgess on an edge at the 2017 World Cup with England, and while Cameron Murray makes a wonderful lock forward, the priority was always Burgess rather than accommodating the Blues hopeful.
“I wasn’t thinking about Cam [starting], I was thinking about Sam Burgess and what I wanted to do with him and how I wanted him to play and the impact he can have on the team,” Bennett said.
“He [Murray] is like a lot of young players these days; he has lots of ability, a good attitude, he’s good to have around club, so hopefully he’s got a long career in the NRL and we’ll see how good he can be.”
Only three weeks ago in the Charity Shield Burgess aimed up on Sims, who will have his work cut out compensating for the suspended Jack de Belin and now the injured Tyson Frizell.
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.