Sam Burgess on Warrington Wolves challenge, improvements, captaincy, recruitment and more

SAM BURGESS spoke to the Rugby League media recently about a range of topics, from the challenge on his hands as Warrington Wolves head coach to the club captaincy and future recruitment. Here is everything he said.

Q: How have you settled into your new role?

A: The team has been good and it’s coming together nicely.

I am really lucky in having Gary Chambers as Head of Football. He takes a lot of things off my desk that might get in the way of coaching. Martin Gleeson is a very accomplished attack coach and Richard Marshall is a previous head coach at another club. He has been around for long time. So I’m lucky that I have some great guys around me and I do like the position of head coach. I think it’s my natural place.

Q: You have signed a big mobile pack. Is that what we can expect as your coaching ethos?

A: I think it’s something that will evolve. I hope you will see my ethos in the first five rounds of the year. The team will have their own dynamics. We have some really gifted players. My job is not to over-coach them. It’s to enhance what they’ve got and try to make it work the best for them.

The team’s style will probably evolve but as long as we are getting the basic things done early, I will be happy with that.

Q: So will you let the team run itself to some degree?

A: Well, it needs some direction. We have tried to create the framework for that to get them fit and understanding the basic skills of the game. Opportunities will come off the back of doing simple things well.

Q: How do you rate Super League?

A: Ask me in about ten weeks, when I’ll know a bit more. But I’ve been impressed by the skill level here and it has surprised me. I’m really happy with it.

Q: Are you happy with how the squad is after three months of pre-season?

A: Yes, I’m enjoying it. It’s great and we’re happy.

Q: Are you showing them that as head coach you’re not asking them to do anything that you’re not willing to do yourself?

A: Not really, I probably realised only last year that I’m retired now. It took me three years to figure that out. I don’t jump in as much as some have made out. I like doing the running and trying to stay fit, but in terms of the skill, I see more when I’m stood back. I’ve let Glees and Rich do some of the coaching too, so I can observe. I think I see a bit more doing that.

Q: What are you hoping to see in the friendlies?

A: Tomorrow (last Friday) we have a pretty young team with some old heads. I just want to see them compete in a few areas we’ve worked on. Some of the players haven’t spent a lot of time with us, so it will be interesting to see how they have adapted to our new regime. All our systems now run parallel with each other so players can come through the grades and it’s not a huge change, so it will be interesting to see how that works out. I just want to see them compete and enjoy themselves.

Q: Are there any injuries that are a concern?

A: We have been travelling really well but we have had a nightmare week with injuries. We’ve lost five guys this week.

Q: Do you have any concerns for the first round?

A: A couple will miss the first round. Rod Tai has a knee problem that will keep him out for a while and Matty Nicholson will be out for a while. Stef will be 50/50 but (Josh) Thewlis will be alright.

Q: Did the Army camp bring out who will take on the captaincy and leadership roles within the squad?

A: Stef is the captain of the club and he has been for a long time. I’m lucky that I have the England captain in the team as well. So we are not short of captains. If Stef isn’t there, then the captain will be George. And we have some really dominant voices. Danny Walker is a future captain, not just for his club but for his country, I think he’s that good. So I’m lucky in having some very experienced players. But the captain is just a title. Players follow who they want to follow and they often don’t follow the title, they follow the person.

Q: Are you looking to bring anyone in?

A: I’ll only bring someone in who is going to add to us. There isn’t much space on the salary cap. But there’s no rush. We have a great squad and we’ll just see how the year unfolds.

Q: Was it getting involved in coaching at the Bunnies that allowed you to put your playing career to bed?

A: I coached in the Country leagues in Australia and I almost played there, which would have been a huge mistake. I jumped in last year and tore my hamstring and that’s when I told myself I had to stop messing around and just coach. But I’m only 35, Stef’s older than me and I’m coaching him. I love the game so much and I’ve been obsessed with it from birth until now. Giving it up is never easy but I guess coaching is the next best thing.

Q: Has this happened sooner than you would have thought? If someone had told you twelve months ago that you would be sitting here as the head coach of Warrington, would you have believed them?

A: It’s happened really quickly but I like that. I like being thrown in at the deep end. I’ve really enjoyed what we’ve done and I’m looking forward to what’s coming. The ups and downs of the year are part of being a head coach. I used to think I was pretty balanced as a player, with my eyes on most things that were happening in the team, including rifts or people’s moods I was very aware of as a player. I am a first-time head coach and I don’t understand everything. But I think I do understand a team balance and I’ll probably do it differently to most. I will get challenged no doubt, but I’m looking forward to that.

Q: Your brother (Tom) is on the market next year potentially.

A: I would like to coach him. He still has a lot to offer and he’s getting better with age. He gets the job done. If we could afford him it would be nice but he still has a lot to offer in the NRL. He would be great for the club.

Q: What have you picked up from other coaches?

A: I’ve had some great coaches. Obviously Wayne (Bennett) has been the most influential. I speak to him weekly about life, not just coaching. I want to be authentic, to be myself and to work on relationships within and above the team.

Q: What were your hopes when you went to Australia in 2009?

A: Back then I wanted to be the best player in the world and to win a competition, which South Sydney had not done for 43 years by the time we won it (in 2014). I didn’t know whether I’d come back here. In any career there are a lot of sliding-door moments and this was one of those. Things weren’t working out at Souths; this came up and it all fell into place pretty quickly.

Q: Did you ever think about coming back?

A: When I finished rugby union I nearly stayed for a year but I left rugby to go back to Australia. I would have been doing it for the wrong reasons. I’ve learned that if you make a decision based on money, you end up paying for it in the long run. I ignored the money and went back to Australia. I didn’t really think about coming back because I was really happy over there. But this is a great opportunity and I haven’t regretted it one bit. The players are great, the staff are good, the fans have been good and I’m looking forward to it.

Q: Souths were the great under-achievers, so is there something similar here?

A: There are a lot of parallels. I felt the weight of expectation when I was the captain of Souths and a senior player. There is pressure that comes with that and there will be a very similar pressure here. I’ve had the experience of breaking that drought as a player. Essentially I just have to come and do it now. It sounds clichéd, but I’ll take it a week at a time and focus on getting better.

Q: Did you notice that the team wasn’t united last year?

A: From what I watched of Warrington last year I saw a great team that probably needed a bit of direction. That’s not saying anything about the previous coaches. There were a few things I could see that could make them better, even if they were small changes. I’ve now had them for three months and I’ve put some of those small changes in and I want to keep them going. I’m glad you have said that they seem connected because that was part of the plan with the Army camp. They are often really tough but really rewarding. They do galvanise groups.

Q: How can you turn narrow defeats into narrow victories?

A: By improving your skill levels consistently. Those games are the ones you try and snatch.

Q: Have you had to get used to living in the UK again?

A: I was talking to Lucy, my fiancée, about it and, to be honest, we were dreading the weather after having two months off in Sydney before we came here and being on the beach every day. But after the first week you just get on with it. You just adapt pretty quickly, as all humans do. I’ve actually really enjoyed it, apart from when it’s minus seven and you can’t train on the pitch because it’s like a car park. We’ve embraced the change with our young family, the change of lifestyle.

Q: Have you visited any of your old haunts, such as Dewsbury Moor?

A: Yes, I’ve been there a couple of times although I’ve been really busy in pre-season. The weekends are family time but I’ve been back to Leeds and back to my old street. It’s quite nostalgic going back.

Q: What do you make of Luke Littler’s success in darts?

A: Luke has really inspired the town. If we can support him in any way, we will do. He just attacks it, which is a lesson for everyone.

Q: How is your mum Julie?

A: She is really happy. She is coming over in a couple of months. She misses all her friends in England. She is still working as a teacher.

Q: You have had an amazing career but how will it affect your coaching?

A: I have a lot of life experience and you learn a lot about yourself in some of those moments. I don’t get too high or low any more. All that experience I have gained over 20 years will shape the way I coach.

Q: Can a coach be mates with the players or does he need to be distant from them?

A: I love being mates with the players. I have a very professional relationship with them on the field, but socially I’m mates with them. I play golf with them and mix with them. I’m really enjoying the balance I have with them at the moment.

Q: Should players be treated equally or are there favourites.

A: I have a couple of favourites. I don’t think everyone is treated the same. Some players you need to be hard on, some you just encourage to be who they are. It’s a really fluid position.

Q: Will Leon Hayes get a shot this season?

A: He has been awesome. I love Leon. He will be a future long-term player at the club. But for now, I’m not going to rush him or put him under too much pressure. I’m not going to play him where he doesn’t need to be played. But he’s a great little player and a great defender. Don’t be fooled by his height – he’s pretty tenacious. I love coaching him and he’s been really impressive.

Q: Will he go to Widnes on dual-registration?

A: I’ve not made that decision yet. If that will help his progression, then we’ll look to do it, but he’s very close to my team.

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