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Sam Burgess coaches a footy team for the first time as he guides Russell Crowe's country side

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Former South Sydney superstar Sam Burgess has coached Bunnies owner Russell Crowe’s favourite bush footy side to a thrilling draw in his first time coaching a rugby league team.

Burgess took charge of the Orara Valley Axemen’s first-grade team for their trial game against the Ballina Seagulls on the far north coast of NSW on Saturday night, with his charges coming from behind to record a hard-fought 28-all result.

Souths owner Russell Crowe has had a long association with the Axemen, helping save the bush club when they were forced to withdraw from their local competition in 2020.

Burgess runs out with the Orara Valley Axemen, who scored a 28-all draw with the Ballina Seagulls in the Souths legend's first time coaching a rugby league side

Burgess runs out with the Orara Valley Axemen, who scored a 28-all draw with the Ballina Seagulls in the Souths legend’s first time coaching a rugby league side 

After playing 182 games for South Sydney, including their 2014 grand final win, the former Bunnies star would've had no shortage of advice for his side

After playing 182 games for South Sydney, including their 2014 grand final win, the former Bunnies star would’ve had no shortage of advice for his side 

He and his family have been a major sponsor of the side for more than 20 years, with the Hollywood star pretty much qualifying as a local after spending a lot of time at his property at the nearby town of Nana Glen.

Burgess has been keen on coaching since his retirement from the NRL in 2019 and a chat with Crowe steered him firmly in Orara’s direction.

‘I’ve an aspiration to be a head coach and me and Russell were having a brief conversation one day and he said that there could possibly be an opportunity,’ Burgess told Nambucca’s News of the Area.

‘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.

Looking fit enough to play himself, Burgess watched on from the sideline as the Axemen came from behind to level the contest

Looking fit enough to play himself, Burgess watched on from the sideline as the Axemen came from behind to level the contest

Souths owner Russell Crowe - pictured celebrating the team's 2014 grand final win with Burgess - has strong ties to the Axemen and helped steer the Englishman into the job

Souths owner Russell Crowe – pictured celebrating the team’s 2014 grand final win with Burgess – has strong ties to the Axemen and helped steer the Englishman into the job

‘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 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.’ 

Burgess lashed out at the NRL for hitting him with a ‘grossly unfair’ punishment in March when the governing body fined him and suspended him from acting as one of the league’s officials.

The ban was handed down after the code found him guilty of using illicit drugs and threatening another player in 2018 during his time with the Rabbitohs.

Burgess revealed the toll the episode took on him when he starred on SAS Australia.

‘Just completed 28 days of rehab. Because the last 18 months have been crazy. Every thing I touched turned to s***. 

‘Decided to get back on my feet. I started coaching again.’

If the Axemen win the premiership this year, it won't be because they've paid for big-name imports. Burgess has said he wants to use locals in his team

If the Axemen win the premiership this year, it won’t be because they’ve paid for big-name imports. Burgess has said he wants to use locals in his team 

He was known for being one of the NRL's fiercest competitors before his retirement in 2019, but the Englishman says making footy fun will be a focus for him with Orara Valley

He was known for being one of the NRL’s fiercest competitors before his retirement in 2019, but the Englishman says making footy fun will be a focus for him with Orara Valley

Those worries would have been far from his mind when match day rolled around. 

The former Bunnies enforcer looked to be in good enough shape to play as he led the Axemen out onto Ballina’s home ground.

Both sides exchanged tries in the back-and-forth contest, with Orara Valley holding a 20-12 lead at halftime.

Ballina hit back with two converted tries early in the second half, then a third after 63 minutes to lead late in the game.

But two Axemen tries to Ryan Gill and Dan Robinson – the latter coming in the final minute of the match – squared things up. 

'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,' Burgess said of his reasons for taking the coaching job

‘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,’ Burgess said of his reasons for taking the coaching job

Burgess’s men had a chance to take the contest but missed with their last conversion attempt. 

‘Fantastic first run of 2022 for our first-grade boys,’ read a post on the team’s Facebook page.

Burgess has explained that his coaching philosophy with the Axemen will revolve around making footy a fun game, while also displaying his famously fiery will to win.

Many country footy teams pay to import big-name players, but despite his obvious connections to a host of former NRL stars, that’s not the way Burgess wants to go.

‘Predominantly, I want locals … 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.’ 

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