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Graham: Burgess arguably NRL's 'biggest superstar'

It's a big call but Sam Burgess's long-time England teammate James Graham believes the retiring Rabbitoh is possibly "the biggest" superstar in the NRL.

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Graham – who famously fractured Burgess's cheekbone in a head clash just seconds into the 2014 NRL grand final – said his 30-year-old rival would leave a massive hole at South Sydney and for the sport in general following confirmation the South Sydney skipper would was retiring immediately due to a shoulder injury.

Burgess's younger brother Thomas, who is also in camp in Auckland with the Great Britain Lions alongside Graham to prepare for Saturday's Test against New Zealand, paid tribute to Sam for setting the family up with a new life in Australia.

"From the game's point of view he's a huge loss. The competition is going to be poorer for him not being there, he's one of the game's biggest superstars, if not the biggest superstar," Graham said.

"He's one of the best players of the generation to play. He will be remembered for a very long time, especially for what he did for South Sydney in ending their [title] drought.

"Not just in the grand final in 2014, but it's the things that he did the years before and the performances he gave to put them in a position to win the grand final."

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A shoulder injury suffered earlier this season caused the 30-year-old forward to call time on his career after playing 182 games for South Sydney and 24 Tests for Great Britain and England.

Tom said in addition to paving the way for he and brothers George and Luke on the field, Sam was the catalyst for a massive life-changing experience for the entire Burgess clan when he made the decision to move to the Rabbitohs in 2010.

"He's been a trailblazer for myself and our family in coming out to Australia," Tom said.

Tom Burgess reacts to brother Sam's sudden retirement

"He didn't really tell me [what was going on] in that respect, he just said it's been decided.

"We've had our good times, I don't want to be greedy in that respect. I'm just thankful for the time that we have had together as brothers playing together. I'll cherish them forever.

"I support him in his decision … we have just got to sort of celebrate and smile about what he has done in the game. It was earlier than we would have liked, but we have just got to take it and move on really. There's more to life I think than footy."

Graham also said Burgess was a player who helped him reach new heights.  

"It's been an absolute pleasure to share the field with him," Graham told

"He's taken me further. He's one of those players that when you played with him you wanted to go the extra mile because it's him telling you to do it or because you're playing by his side.

"Playing against him you knew you had to be on your game. As a friend and a teammate I'm disappointed for him, I can't imagine this is the way he would have wanted to finish his career."

George, Sam and Tom Burgess on the bench during a Rabbitohs game in 2019.
George, Sam and Tom Burgess on the bench during a Rabbitohs game in 2019. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

While the pair played numerous Tests together for Great Britain and England – and went head to head across eight NRL seasons – Graham said it's the early memories of Sam which stand out.

"There were a couple of times he played at Bradford which stick out in the memory, and the game for Great Britain when he took on Fuifui Moimoi in his pomp," Graham said.

"That clash with Moimoi sort of announced him on the international scene. 

"Then obviously some of the performances for South Sydney have just been outstanding – some of those games where we went against each other – and the one most people will remember is the 2014 grand final."

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