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Sam Burgess is unlikely to wake again in the middle of the night “panicking” about being robbed in South Africa by Ricky Gervais, and James Graham won’t have to worry any more about having a room-mate “who seems to hate wearing clothes at any time”.
With Burgess having been granted a release from South Sydney at the end of the season to play rugby union, last year’s World Cup semi-final at Wembley was almost certainly the last time the star English front-rowers will play together and the Good Friday clash between the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium is one of the few remaining opportunities for them to oppose each other.
While fierce rivals on the field, Graham and Burgess have forged a close friendship after spending seven years as room-mates in England teams and they meet up for dinner about once a month in Sydney.
“Apart from him always checking himself out in the mirror, he is a good guy to room with,” Graham said of Burgess. “I am going to miss having those times together over the next few years.”
Burgess said: “There is a lot that is different about me and ‘Jammer’, but we are honestly best of mates. He has been my roomie in England teams since 2007. When you live with someone for five weeks you get to know them pretty well and I have spent a lot of time with him away from footy, so we are proper mates.
“He has got some weird habits – he can’t sleep unless he listens to his podcasts at night – but he is a good roomie. He is good at making the cups of tea at night, so I think I will miss that.”
Ask Graham about the podcasts and he laughs as he recounts an incident during the England team’s high-altitude camp in South Africa before last year’s World Cup.
“I just have a bit of trouble switching off at night time, so I like to listen to the Ricky Gervais podcast and some of his old radio shows,” Graham explained. “I have listened to them 1000 times, so I know what is coming.
“I think I may have lost my earphones or something and I just played it on loud speaker. I thought I was being quiet but Sam panicked. He woke up and heard people talking in the room and he thought he was being robbed in South Africa.”
England coach Steve McNamara said Graham and Burgess are highly competitive, but they liked to “take the piss out of one another” at every opportunity.
Team manager Barrie-Jon Mather added: “Apart from the fact that Sam seems to hate wearing clothes at any time and Jammer has a weakness for crumpets, they did a fairly good job of covering up their activities from me in the World Cup.”
What neither attempts to hide is the fact they will do almost anything to win, as evidenced by the fact Graham and Burgess almost came to blows in a match between Souths and Canterbury in 2012.
McNamara said the pair had a “giggle” about it in the England team camp as they showed Test teammates footage of the incident.
“They are very close and they are good friends, but obviously when they come up against each other, they are as fierce as any rivals,” McNamara said.
Graham typically played down the incident, which occured after Burgess picked up a dropped ball from a kick-off and ignored the referee’s whistle to charge into his countryman at full pace.
“I don’t think it was much of a stink,” Graham said. “Sam was running it off a kick-off and I don’t think either of us heard the whistle. I tried to tackle him and boys have run in from both teams, but it was a whole lot about nothing.
“Sam plays the game hard and he is very competitive, you can see that watching him and obviously having spent some time with him you see that in his personality as well.
“He is competitive at everything he does: he is competitive at probably trying to look good, he is very competitive at trying to be the most stylish man in the team with England.
“You see it at training. He wants to be the best at everything he does, whether it be a conditioning drill or a weights session or anything else. He just wants to win and do well for his team.”
That determination to win has led to both being suspended for unsavoury incidents, Graham receiving a 12-match ban for biting Billy Slater in the 2012 grand final and Burgess this week admitting that his “squirrel grip” on Melbourne centre Will Chambers in August had tarnished his reputation.
However, their competitiveness has also made them into two of best players in the NRL: both are ranked in the top-20 players this season, according to Sportsdata’s contributor value rating system.
Burgess is No.2 overall behind Wests Tigers hooker Robbie Farah, while Graham is 19th. The only other props in between are Canterbury’s Aiden Tolman (eighth), Wests Tigers front-rower Aaron Woods (10th) and South Sydney’s George Burgess (14th).
Sam Burgess’ performance for England in last year’s heartbreaking World Cup semi-final loss to New Zealand is considered one of the best by a front-rower and he shaded Kiwis superstar Sonny Bill Williams for man of the match honours, but Graham wasn’t far behind.
“That game was the highest of highest standards, and they both showed in that game that they are two of the best players in the world in their positions,” McNamara said.
“Sam’s head-to-head with Sonny Bill got all the headlines and probably rightly so, but James was incredible,” McNamara said. “I remember a break being made by New Zealand and the cover play by himself – he ran nearly the length of the field.”
Burgess said Graham had been underrated for much of his three seasons at Canterbury.
“I think it took a while for people to realise what he brought to the club, but I always knew he would be good,” Burgess said. “James is super competitive, so it is always a good game against the Doggies. He has got great soft hands for a big fella and he does the hard yards when he needs to.
“He is a quality bloke and I love him to bits, but I always love playing against him because he is a great competitor and you always know what you are going to get from him.”