Former South Sydney star Sam Burgess to lead Orara Valley Axemen in 2022

Sam Burgess at training with South Sydney. Photo: South Sydney Rabbitohs.


ORARA Valley isn’t just looking to simply get back into the Group 2 senior competition in 2022. It’s going to do so in style after making a big splash with its coaching appointment.

Former South Sydney star Sam Burgess has agreed to coach the Axemen’s first grade team when the club returns to the playing ranks next year.

Since finishing his outstanding rugby league career at the end of 2019 there’s been no shortage of coaching offers for Burgess but he said moving to the Valley was a natural fit for him.

“I’ve always found that I’ve not really done things the traditional way and I didn’t want to start my coaching career as an assistant coach, I want to be a head coach eventually.

“So I figured I’ll learn a lot more in this role at Orara Valley as a head coach managing all the different dynamics within a team,” Burgess said.

Opposition forwards fearful of having to run into one of the finest back-rowers the game has seen can rest easy.

Burgess is planning on staying on the sidelines saying “my left shoulder is completely gone”.

“I considered playing but when you retire I think you retire for a reason and I retired because my body was no good,” the 32-year-old said.

“I love the game through and through but I think the best way for me now to give back in the game or to be a part of it is to coach.”

The 2014 Clive Churchill Medallist said it was a chat with a good friend that provided the initial impetus behind him taking on the role at Coramba Sportsground.

“I’ve an aspiration to be a head coach and me and Russell (Crowe) were having a brief conversation one day and he said that there could possibly be an opportunity,” he said.

“He explained that Orara Valley had folded and it needed a bit of a catalyst to get them back up and running in good order.

“I saw the challenge or the opportunity as something where there’d be a lot of reward in terms of being back in the community, back at the grassroots level in the game.

“That is where we all start and where I fell in love with the game.

“The opportunity just outweighed everything else.

“The joy that I’ll get out of bringing what I might bring to the club and the area was something that I just couldn’t turn down.”

Orara Valley President Peter Spinks said there’s been a flurry of enthusiasm in the Valley since the bush telegraph revealed Burgess’ appointment.

“It’s exciting to have somebody of the calibre of Sam Burgess putting up his hand wanting to help the club get back on its feet,” Spinks said.

“The club really just wants to get back to enjoying footy.

“Obviously the last two seasons have been crap for everyone but we just want to get back to enjoying rugby league and seeing some smiling locals out there.”

Enjoying football is a big part of Burgess’ coaching philosophy.

“The number one thing is to have engagement.

“I spent a couple of months in Coffs prior to being stuck in this lockdown in Sydney at the moment and our highest numbers of participation were in the girls’ under-16 tag,” he explained.

“For me that’s amazing so I spent a lot of time with that team coaching there and just helping out and having fun.

“And I found that they were all just having fun and it lit the fire in my belly that the game is a fun game and that’s how I should coach it and that’s how we should play it.

“Surely I want to win too. I know that when I’m head coach everyone will be wanting to knock us off and that’s good and that’s the challenge of it but we’ll be prepared and we’ll certainly have fun along the way.”

The Axemen will be active in the recruiting market over summer but Burgess said the team won’t be one full of high-price imports.

“Predominantly I want locals.

“And the players that have played for the team and been there before want that as well,” the dual international said.

“I don’t want anyone to suggest that I’ve come in and bought a premiership.

“I’d like to win it from the ground up, that’s the ultimate goal.

“We’ll bring in some players.

“I’ve got no one yet that has agreed to come in terms of big players and what not.

“We’ve had plenty of interest from some people but at the moment it’s not really well known that I’m taking the job full time.

“But hopefully after this we’ll start putting a team together that can do well next year.”

Burgess said despite his vast experience at the elite level he doesn’t have all the answers.

In fact, he knows that being in his first coaching role he’s still got a lot to learn.

“There’s always a journey in whatever you’re doing and I understand that this is at the start for me and I’m going to make mistakes, I’m going to get things wrong but I’m going to learn,” he said.

“To learn you have to make mistakes and you have to be vulnerable and willing to put yourself out there and that’s what I’m doing here.”

Now it’s the time to start looking forward to the Axemen returning to the playing field and putting the foundations in place to ensure it’s a successful return.

“The plan is to be there about November.

“Looking ahead from then, we’ll do a little bit up to Christmas and then we’ll hit the ground running with more of an idea of a squad early next year,” he said.

“There’s still a little bit of time to get planning.

“Things can sometimes come together at the last minute.

“So I’m not really panicking, we’re just taking it a bit at a time.

“There’s a lot of things that we need to get together away from the club first, things like getting corporate partners involved, getting our kits all sorted and making sure each player’s got some training attire so we look like a professional outfit.

“There’s all that going on in the background but in time we’ll pull a squad together.”


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