As arguably the NRL’s two dominant forwards over the last two seasons, Sam Burgess and Sonny Bill Williams have engaged in one of the code’s most explosive and intriguing individual rivalries. The backrow powerhouses are vitally important to their respective clubs’ premiership chances this season.
Brit Burgess and Kiwi Williams have gone head-to-head four times at NRL and international level, and are set for a fifth titanic battle tonight when South Sydney and the Sydney Roosters face off in Round 26.
If Manly clinches the minor premiership this weekend, the rivals will get another chance to flex their muscles against one another in week one of the finals, while there is a strong possibility they will meet again on Grand Final day.
Both are switching to rugby union at the conclusion of the NRL season, and could well line up directly opposite each other at the 2015 World Cup – both are slated to play at inside centre when they jump the fence to 15-a-side.
Look back at how the SBW v Burgess rivalry has unfolded to date:
Rd 1 – South Sydney 28 d Sydney Roosters 10, Round 1 2013 NRL
Sonny Bill Williams’ return to the NRL after almost five years in union was the most hyped event of the 2013 pre-season, and Sam Burgess made it his mission to meet the code-hopping superstar head on. This steamrolling run – and Burgess’ sledging – gave the individual competition a massive kick-start, taking the points over SBW (who scored a try) while Souths cruised to a comprehensive win in the season-opening blockbuster.
Rd 2 – Sydney Roosters 24 d South Sydney 12, Round 26 2013 NRL
While the latter rounds of the 2013 season for Burgess were dominated by accusations of questionable tactics – most notably his squirrel-grip on Will Chambers – Williams was in devastating form for the Roosters. SBW squared the ledger against Burgess in this virtual playoff for the minor premiership, setting up the match-sealing try with a long break while Burgess was again mired in controversy for an alleged gouge on James Maloney. Williams went on to spearhead the Roosters’ premiership triumph as the Rabbitohs flaked out at the preliminary final stage.
Rd 3 – New Zealand 18 d England 14, 2013 World Cup Semi-final
In one of the great one-on-one duels in Test history, Burgess and Williams were incredible in the epic World Cup semi at Wembley. Burgess was a standout man-of-the-match, setting up the opening try and scoring another that looked to have propelled England to an upset and into a final showdown with Australia. Williams was also dominant, but it appeared as if defending champs New Zealand were going to be bundled out when he was unable to claim a high kick near England’s line; Shaun Johnson ultimately rescued the Kiwis in the final minute, snatching victory in one of the all-time great Test matches.
Rd 4 – South Sydney 28 d Sydney Roosters 8, Round 1 2014 NRL
The defending premiers were given an early wake-up call, routed by their archrivals despite a 6-all halftime scoreline. Burgess set the tone for the career-best season that was to follow with 25 tackles and 19 runs for 173 metres, while Williams made 31 tackles but was well-contained when he had the ball in a solid 80-minute display. Burgess remains in Dally M contention after a spectacular and ultra-consistent campaign, but Williams’ season has been interrupted by injury and suspension. Both are in magnificent touch currently, however, and shape as two of the 2014 finals’ most influential figures.
Follow Commentary Box Sports on Social Media!