'Wigan Warriors' signings have re-energised the club' - Talking RL

If someone had said a fortnight ago that Wigan would either sign a prop from Swinton or Souths, I would have guessed the former, not the latter.

Thursday, 1st August 2019, 9:55 am
George Burgess
George Burgess

Because in recent years they have previous for recruiting front-rowers from smaller clubs and improving them – of polishing up rough diamonds, Shaun Wane used to say – rather than move for off-the-shelf internationals.

Joe Bullock, Ben Flower, Gabe Hamlin and Romain Navarrete all fall into that category. Even the more-established Taulima Tautai and Tony Clubb moved from smaller clubs (and that isn’t a swipe, by the way; I know the difficulties of managing a salary cap, especially at a club like Wigan where many of the young players have contracts upgraded, and this policy has worked for them).

Frank-Paul the Wrecking Ball was a recent exception, and his best days were behind him.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Wigan often have stars and current internationals through the backline, halfbacks, and backrow. Just not at prop.

So when they swooped for George Burgess, I was surprised.

Surprised, and excited.

He is, in rugby league terms, a current star. He is 27.

And on the field, he will add that drive and physical presence which they have sorely lacked.

Wigan have some quality front-rowers and some promising youngsters, but Burgess’ size will give them a different dynamic.

And the fact Ian Lenagan used the new second marquee player spot underlined his commitment to the club, too.

His signing, so soon after the recruitment of Bevan French and Jackson Hastings, has re-energised the place, and made fans look to 2020 with real excitement – at a time when their 2019 campaign is far from done.

French will play some part this season and he’s already impressed me – when I asked him at Robin Park yesterday when he arrived in the country, he replied: “A couple of hours ago.”

He has freakish pace and I’m sure once he’s settled in, he’ll become a huge fans’ favourite.

I’m not sure what role he’ll play, and I’m not particularly bothered - the cream has a way of rising to the top. And having good players unable to get into the side is a good headache for Adrian Lam to have at such a vital stage of the campaign.

As one bearded, amicable and talented player arrives in Wigan, a bearded, amicable and talented reporter departs.

Good luck to my colleague Tom McCooey, who left our sports desk for a new career challenge this week.

He has been a fine operator and a good friend to many of us here.

Tom will say many of the tales told about him aren’t true – like the time he ordered a burger from a dodgy food van at Batley, and presumed he could pay by contact-less.

But I can vouch that, while he is quiet and unassuming, he has some good stories to tell.

There was the time I was driving over to a game at Wakefield and, making small-talk, asked what he’d done at the weekend.

“I had Han Solo tattooed on my back,” he replied.

Which made my previous day’s itinerary – kids’ parties, cutting the grass – look sharply unimpressive.

Or the time when he was on work experience and he accompanied me to a Magic Weekend press conference at Manchester City’s ground. I asked if he’d been before.

“Yeah, once.”

“Watching Man City?”

“No... I played here.”

I looked at him quizzically.

“Played here?” I asked. “As in, football?”

“No, of course not! It was with my band. We supported Bon Jovi.”

If I’d warmed-up for the greatest band in the world (yep, I’m going with that) I’d still be dining out on it, but Tom is modesty personified.

When I pressed him for details of his big day, he showed me a picture of him with guitarist Richie Sambora, who had encouraged the young musicians and told them they, too, may be stars in 10 years’ time.

They weren’t.

But Tom has family, friends and a dog who think the world of him, colleagues who will miss him, he is very happily married and, as I write this, he’s somewhere between Hong Kong and Fiji, plotting the next chapter of his life.

All the best to him.