Ask 100 people for their opinion on Burgess’s spell in union and you would probably get 100 different answers. Some would see him as a scapegoat, others would say varying degrees of failure, and there would be all points in between. That in itself made a return to league all the more plausible, a sport where he was – and still is – widely acclaimed as one of the true masters of the code.
Last Monday, Wayne Bennett named Burgess in the 24-man England squad for the Four Nations although he will miss next Saturday’s warm-up against France due to suspension. As the 27-year-old prepares to return to international rugby for the first time since his fifth and final appearance for Stuart Lancaster’s union side, in the defeat to Australia – this time, as the poster boy – it is almost beyond belief that it is not yet a year since his short‑lived stay in union ended.
Burgess had never been far from the headlines but his time in union prompted a level of adversity he had not known before. That, Richardson believes, has brought a different character back to the beaches of Maroubra after a testing first 12 months back in league.
“He’s come back with a level of maturity that’s a bit tighter than it was before,” Richardson says.
“He’s calmer, much more of a leader off the field and there’s a real presence about the bloke when it comes to leadership. I think it will rub off on many of our players moving forward. We feel we’ve got a better player and a better man back from union.”