From a very early age, it was obvious that Mick Burke was going to be a great rugby player. Certain attributes, such as speed of reaction and anticipation, a natural swerve and sidestep you have to be born with, and the young Michael Burke was born with the lot. He was also born with a great kicking boot, a robust bodily frame and a great heart to go with it.
He started his rugby career in Rugby Union, playing for the famous St. Helens school team of Cowley, and later joined Waterloo as a stand-off half. He was tipped for the highest honours in that game, but decided to turn professional, and joined the super-successful Widnes team of 1978, playing his first season mainly on the wing. In that season he helped Widnes to win the Lancashire Cup, the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy and the Challenge Cup at Wembley. He also kicked the winning penalty goal in a close match against the Australian tourists.
That was a fine season for Widnes, and a measure of Burke's contribution to the club's success was the fact that he not only broke Ray Dutton's goalscoring record, with 140 goals from his 47 games, but also Harry Dawson's long standing points record for a season. Mick amassed 316 points beating the old record by 34 clear points. You could say he had started his career for Widnes in some style!
In the following season Widnes won the Lancashire Cup yet again, and also the one trophy that had eluded them previously - the Premiership title against Bradford Northern, at Swinton. It was during this season that Mick Burke took over the position that had become a problem for Widnes since the retirement of the long serving Ray Dutton - full back. It was a position he was able to make his own, and the one in which he gained international recognition, and eventually a coveted place on the tour of Australia and New Zealand. But Mick Burke was such a natural footballer, you could have played him in any position on the field, and he would make you believe he had played there all his life.
He showed all his attacking flair in the first five minutes of the Wembley final of 1981, against Hull K.R, when he shot down the right wing, kicked ahead, and gathered his own kick for a magnificent solo try. He also kicked four goals in the match, and added his name to some illustrious ones in the past by carrying off the Lance Todd Award for the outstanding player of the final. The next season he was to win the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man of the match in the Premiership victory over Hull at Headingley. This is a remarkable record. Can any other club boast a player who had, in his first four seasons, won both of the game's major individual awards as well as virtually every team medal going?
But Mick Burke was no showman. His game at full back was based on the most essential qualities for success in that position - rock solid tackling, a fine positional sense, and courage. These were the qualities which won him a place on the 1984 tour of Australasia, and these were the qualities he was to display in all the Test matches on that tour.
The Australian side of 1984 was possibly the best they have ever turned out, and the New Zealand side certainly was! By comparison, the British Lions were the youngest and least experienced ever sent. They also suffered a crippling succession of injuries, and for the first time in history lost all 6 Tests. So far we have told of Mick Burke's exploits in a consistantly successful club team, but it is under conditions like this that the true worth of rugby players can be assessed.
In that tour down under, Mick Burke was under intense pressure in every game he played. Not only did he constantly have to tackle big and speedy backs like Grothe and Meninga, but face head on rushes from forwards like Kurt Sorensen and Tamati. He never flinched. He also showed his courage and skill in fielding the high kicks which were constantly being put up to him. The Great Britain teams that Mick Burke played in were not the winning teams he often played in for Widnes, but just as he served with distinction in victory, so did he serve in defeat. There is no greater praise than that.© This text has been taken from the Widnes R.L.F.C Hall of Fame Brochure which was written by Sam Patmore, Ron Girvin, Stephen Fox, John Potter & Chris Moore.