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18 holes with Luke Burgess

As you probably know, England has a rather decent cricket team these days.
18 holes with Luke Burgess
by NRL

As you probably know, England has a rather decent cricket team these days. They hold the Ashes and are number one Test team in the world. They will also likely win more medals than us at their Olympics. Clearly God is angry with Australians. Was it Rolf Harris? It's anyone's guess. But clearly it's time to redress this travesty against the natural laws of sport and of nature.

Which is why your correspondent is at Sydney's Monash Country Club about to take on the Bunnies' British back-rower Luke Burgess over 18 holes of golf. He's a good-sized lump, this dude from Dewsbury, and was impressive when he arrived in June last year to join brothers Sam and George in the Rabbits' warren.

"How bloody many more of you are there?" queries former North Sydney Bears wild man Don McKinnon who's out here today with a coterie of former league men who play golf at Monash in a "secret club".

"There's still Tommy back at home," advises Burgess cheerfully, his vowels clipped straight from The Yorkshire Post. "He's George's twin brother. He plays for Bradford Bulls. He's pretty happy there."

And so Burgess talks footy with Big Donny, a man whose rugby league philosophy was "Tackle me low and you won't get the elbow", and says hello to the Manly Mafia and menagerie of former footy-heads like Andrew Johns, Paul Vautin and Johnny Gibbs who play in the (No Longer Very) Secret Club.

Whatever. It's a spanking warm day in the middle of Sydney's winter and the big Englishman is thinking one thing: tanning up. "Get some sun today," he says and we can provide no argument.

And so he gets up on the tee, waggles his giant Ping stick, pulls the trigger and smashes the unholy motherless goat out of the Srixon Z-Star, the golf ball soaring over giant eucalypts and landing in the middle of the adjacent ninth fairway. Happy days.

"Any advice for me ladies?" asks Burgess of the players coming down nine, the girls tittering like the teenagers they were in 1965. The Burgess brothers may be a long way from England (or as it's known locally "Pommyland") but there's an easy charm to the boys that's winning friends and influencing people.

Influencing games of footy, too. For while he may lack the dynamism of younger brother Sam (and he's not Robinson Crusoe) 24-year-old Luke showed plenty of game in his embryonic outings. He ran unfettered and threw his not inconsiderable mass into collisions, sometimes popping a pass. And running with bulls like Mick Crocker, Ben Ross and Big Dave Taylor the Bunnies ? almost made the Top-8.

"The speed of the game over here is a little quicker," reckons Burgess. "Though I wouldn't say it was that much different, especially for me being a middle-man. What's made it easier is playing alongside guys like 'GI' [Greg Inglis]. Each week you're up against world-class players. That's the reason I came out here."

Out on the golf course and it's a ding-dong go. The journalist is the better putter (the ice-rink greens of Monash take some getting used to) while Burgess bombs his drives easily 50 metres further. The man is a capital "G" gorilla. But fortunately for the $20 I have wagered on the game, his drives are sprayed further away than Dewsbury, birthplace of Great Britain great Mike Stephenson and Greg Rusedski's mum Helen.
"You do realise this isn't the right fairway," quips Fatman Vautin, playing the short seventh.

"No I thought it were the fourth!" replies Burgess in mock surprise. Then Vautin chips close because he doesn't have, nor has ever really had, a proper job of work.

And so it continues in the glorious winter sun, and it's hard to get too agitated that Burgess has the lead. He crushes his golf ball like John Daly on a walnut before we drive off and find it, yapping about footy and home and the Bunnies. And it's all good.

But you have to do some journo stuff so you ask him: what influence did his brother Sam and the likes of Tigers' Englishmen Mark Flanagan and Gareth Ellis have in getting Burgess over? Is there an informal network of Poms talking shop?

"They didn't really have to say anything to convince me," says Burgess. "I've always wanted to come out and play. I knew about the lifestyle - I've been out a few times on holiday. But there was no arm-twisting. I've been watching the NRL forever and playing out here is something I've always wanted to do."

Reckon there's other blokes who'd come over? James Graham looks a beauty. "I think now there will be. There'd be a lot more players wanting to now they realise it's something that can be done. It's harder for blokes with young families but I'd certainly encourage young blokes to have a crack.

"And not just for the rugby. The lifestyle is obviously great. And the Aussie dollar is strong against the pound."

What did he know about South Sydney before Sam started playing for them? Anything? "I played against Souths in 2008 in Florida," replies Burgess. "It was a pre-season camp. I got to know the boys then and I followed Souths since, particularly when Sam started playing for them. So I've known all the boys before I came out here."

Has Russell Crowe sat him down to read The Book of Fueds?

"Is that the one they have with Roosters?"

No, mate. It's an actual leather-bound book that Crowe had specially made which details Souths' history against every one of the 15 NRL clubs. Before games against pertinent clubs there would be a reading. It's a bit of a thing.

"I've not heard of it. I've not seen Russell since I got here. I know he knows about the history of Souths. It's an important thing and it's something I would like to learn about. I'll have to ask around."

And so with three holes to go Burgess has a couple-shot lead. The journo is clinging on but the Englishman is booming his drives down the guts. He's a better player than he let on. But it's here, for no reason the journo can fathom, that the journo's game comes good. An 8-iron to the par-3 17th nearly goes in. A drive on 18 splits the fairway. The approach lands pin-high. Two putts and that's a par.

On the last Burgess has a birdie putt to win but misses and we end in a tie. We decide against a play-off in the spirit of Anglo-Australian relations, and retire to the bar with the (No Longer) Secret Club and talk about footy and ? that's all, footy.

But it's all good. Seems God may have forgiven us.




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