The NRL and South Sydney have been rocked by serious allegations levelled at former Rabbitohs star Sam Burgess on the eve of the finals series.
After a four-month investigation into various off-field matters, The Australian newspaper published an exclusive report on Thursday night.
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It includes claims that South Sydney officials went to great lengths to prevent the public exposure of the raucous post-season celebrations of the English-born star late in his career.
Burgess’ lawyer Mark O’Brien last night vigorously denied the accusations, which included allegations of violence and substance abuse.
“The allegations are false and constitute an indefensible defamation against my client,” Mr O’Brien told the newspaper.
“It is apparent sources of the false allegations are those currently in dispute with my client over various issues.”
Burgess confirmed he has stood down from his role as development coach with the Rabbitohs, and also from his media duties with Fox Sports.
“I have today stood down from all work commitments,” Burgess said, per a statement provided to foxsports.com.au.
The Rabbitohs released a statement on Friday afternoon: “The allegations in today’s The Australian newspaper are very concerning and the Club is treating them with the utmost seriousness. There is no place in our society for violence, harassment or abuse against women. If anyone is found guilty of allegations of this nature, the Club will take the strongest possible action.
“The Club takes issues of drug use very seriously and has well-established policies and procedures in place around the use of performance enhancing or illicit/recreational/prescription drugs. The Club will continue to work closely with ASADA and the NRL which administer testing of the players. The Club will also continue to work with the playing group to support their wellbeing and educate them about drug use.
“The Rabbitohs welcome the NRL Integrity Unit’s investigation in relation to these allegations and will fully cooperate with the investigation. The Club is supportive of Sam Burgess’s decision to step down from his role at the Club while the NRL Integrity Unit investigation is underway.”
Speaking to reporters today, NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said the league has launched its own investigation and will co-operate with police, who are also investigating the claims.
Abdo stressed the allegations levelled in the report contain “new information” the NRL had not been aware of, and said no further action will be taken until all the facts are known.
“If these allegations are proven we will take the strongest possible action that we can,” Abdo said. “But at this stage, they are just that — allegations.
“We will conduct a thorough investigation and if information has been withheld by parties, we will take the appropriate action.”
Abdo said the NRL will “take as long as needed to make sure that we get to the answers that we need”.
He declined to answer when asked if this storm was an example of a South Sydney “cover up”.
ARLC chairman Peter V’landys also addressed the matter while speaking on 2GB radio this morning.
“We’ll investigate them, no doubt about that,’’ he said.
“But I stress, all parties including the South Sydney club, Sam Burgess deserve due process and natural justice.
“Once we have all the information we’ll make the appropriate decisions.
“It would be totally inappropriate for me to comment on this particular case, I don’t have sufficient facts.
“And like anyone else in the community you have to provide due process and natural justice and Sam should be afforded that.
“But in this instance I think the appropriate action would be to investigate it, get all the facts and make a judgment after that.’’
Channel 10 reports NSW Police is investigating and the rugby league community is demanding answers.
“Souths and Sam Burgess have serious questions to answer today,” veteran rugby league reporter Danny Weidler said. “These details demand that Burgess and other officials be stood down whilst investigated.”
English rugby league star Burgess joined South Sydney in 2010 and quickly became one of the game’s premier forwards and was instrumental in the Rabbitohs’ 2014 premiership success, winning the Clive Churchill Medal as the best player in the grand final.
He left the sport for rugby union in 2015 and was part of England’s disastrous World Cup campaign before returning to rugby league in 2016.
Named one of the best players of the 2010-2019 decade, Burgess battled shoulder injuries late in his career before he was medically retired at the end of the 2019 season.
It saw increased scrutiny of his private life including a messy break up with now estranged wife Phoebe. The pair separated in 2018 but reconciled in early 2019 before finally splitting in October 2019.
After the split, Burgess was hit with an apprehended violence order after an alleged dispute in Bowral with Phoebe’s father Mitchell Hooke.
Burgess has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing.
His lawyer Bryan Wrench told court in November 2019 they were “false allegations” but the AVO was upheld with the case set to be heard in this November.
As little as two weeks ago, Burgess, who has taken on a role as development coach with the Rabbitohs under the tutelage of Souths coach Wayne Bennett, was being linked to a potential return to the NRL.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs are yet to comment.