They swear they’re the best of mates off the field, but Sam Burgess and James Graham will put their friendship on hold on Saturday to add another chapter to their on-field rivalry.
The Englishmen have clashed a number of times in the NRL, but this match up will mark the two forwards’ third clash in a finals series since Graham landed on Australian shores in 2012.
The St George Illawarra prop claimed the first victory with Canterbury defeating South Sydney in the 2012 preliminary finals, before Burgess struck back in the 2014 NRL Grand Final, not only lifting the trophy after the final siren, but also earning the Clive Churchill medal for best on ground.
Despite the significance of the Rabbitohs winning their first premiership in 43 years, it was the opening tackle of the clash which would see the game go down in folklore.
Burgess, taking the opening hit up, was met front on by Graham, leading to a head clash that saw Burgess’ eye socket and cheekbone fractured in the process. Despite the gruesome injury, the lock forward went on to play 80 minutes in the middle, and lead his side to glory.
While the pair have been international team mates since 2007, there is no holding back when the two fiery forwards meet face-to-face.
Graham will be under a stack of pressure, losing partner in crime Paul Vaughan to injury for the remainder of the year, while Jack de Belin is under an injury cloud following a recurring ankle injury. With a trio of Burgess brothers plus emerging star Cameron Murray set to dominate the middle third for the Rabbitohs, Graham will need to lead from the front for St George if they are to pull off another huge upset.
The odds are already stacked against them, with Gareth Widdop’s re-dislocated shoulder almost certain to end his season, handing the reins to Kurt Mann. Both Graham and de Belin failed to finish the match for the Dragons, however both are expected to run out on Saturday, fully fit or not.
While the Rabbitohs are sure to be battered and bruised following their clash with Melbourne, two extra days will more than help the club ensure the squad is fully fit, with coach Anthony Seibold naming the same 17 that lined up at AAMI Park.
Whether he elects to use his full bench, or only use 15 players like he did last weekend is yet to be seen, but unless he’s sin-binned or injured, Slammin’ Sam is sure to be leading from the front for the full 80 minutes.
While Graham doesn’t have the motor of his English team mate, he is just as inspirational and detrimental for his side, and two will be sure to clash early and make their presence known.
With elimination from the finals series at risk, both men will be keen to bash the daylights out of each other, but only one can make it through to the next weekend. Regardless of whether it’s Burgess or Graham progressing, both are sure to leave their mark on the game, and on each other.