RUGBY League must feel it has been cheated – and that’s nothing to do with the outrageous clout delivered by Wigan’s Ben Flower in the fateful opening minutes of the Grand Final against St Helens.

No, the feeling of being robbed applies to the muscular might that is Sam Burgess.

The Bradford-born forward has just been crowned the international rugby league player of the year, a coveted award that had never been won by an Englishman until just now. Wow.

And Burgess, one of four brothers who play the 13-a-side game professionally, achieved his feat while starring on the other side of the world, the Antipodes where the international award has been an exclusively-gripped bauble.

The 24-year-old Burgess, who started his RL career with Bradford Bulls, has been in Australia for the last 12 months.

He has been a titanic, totemic, talismanic export to Oz where he starred for South Sydney Rabbitohs, an unfashionable club that won the National Rugby League grand final.

Not only was it their first victory in the Australia season’s conclusion for more than four decades, Burgess played almost the entire game against Canterbury-Bankstown with the considerable handicap of a fractured cheekbone and shattered eye socket. Ouch.

So why should the 13-a-side code feel cheated? Well, the game in which he defied all the odds and created history for club, himself and for his nation in becoming the first Englishman to win the international player award, was his last as an RL player.

Keen to forge an impact for England in the rugby union World Cup of next year, Burgess signed off from the rampant Rabbitohs to join Aviva Premiership powerhouse Bath.

Obviously, the grave injury he suffered in the opening exchanges of the NRL grand final has meant his Bath career has been delayed until he completes a full recovery.

That accorded him the chance to collect the award in Brisbane in person. But it does leave a bitter-taste for those who prefer 13-a-side exploits than the kick and piley-on of the alternative.

Said Burgess before his departure from Australia: “I’m really happy with how the year went with South Sydney and for the thousands of fans who have stuck with the club through years of not-so-good times.

“It’s been a great 12 months....I’ll never forget.”

His contribution to the Australian season was lauded to the highest. Declared RLIF chairman Nigel Wood: “His performances for South Sydney through the NRL season were first-class.

“He is a worthy recipient and deserves to be recognised for his achievements over the past year on the international stage as well as in the NRL competition.”

Before joining Sydney Rabbitohs Burgess had starred for England in the rugby league World Cup, where the home ranks were narrow losers in the semi-finals to New Zealand.

Now he has another World Cup to look forward to, only this time in the red rose ranks of the union fraternity and under the astute stewardship of national coach Stuart Lancaster.

There may be obstacles ahead in switching from one code to the other, but given the natural talent of Burgess, allied to his skill, strength, stamina and speed, there is little doubt that he will be anything but an outright success.

However, while that may be a huge gain to union and England’s chances of emulating the World Cup triumph of 2003, it is as equally a massive loss to rugby league.

With funding for union so much more hefty than its largely northern-based counterparts, the snaring of Burgess smacks of the lure of lucre, the power of the pound and all at the expense of the game that afforded him his first break.

There’s no suggestion that Burgess himself is merely chasing the cash.

After such a stellar career so far in rugby league, it could be comfortably argued that there are very few 13-sided challenges for him to attain.

Going for glory in a new sport and on the highest stage possible in next year’s World Cup would be enough to get anyone’s competitive juices rushing around, let alone someone who has the potential to become one of the greatest dual-code rugby players.

But that still does not lessen the feeling that somehow rugby league has had a gaping hole torn in its fabric.