Burgess has had a long history of shoulder problems. His first surgery was after an injury suffered while still playing for Bradford in the Super League. After going under the knife in 2009 for a right-shoulder injury, he subluxed his left one during a Test against PNG the following year. That required another operation in 2011 before the dramas of the current season, which required further surgical work.
Souths claim as infection following the last operation forced the end of their inspirational captain’s career.
Under NRL rules, the salary cap auditor will consider the following three points before making a cap exemption ruling:
• “The Player, at the time of termination, was diagnosed as medically unfit to currently continue to train and play elite level contact sport and was medically unable to ever return to play elite level contact sport due to the current level of disability or the significant risk of further disabling injury as a result of playing elite level contract sport;
• “The Player, had no similar injury or medical condition to that area of the body that either has or could reasonably be predicted medically to lead to a degenerative condition of that area of the body prior to signing his last NRL contract or if the players contract was signed more than 24 months previous within the last 24 months unless an unrelated single event has resulted in rapid deterioration of this condition; and
• A single event that caused the injury could be identified.”
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg congratulated Burgess on his career and said the cap implications would soon be examined.
“There’ll obviously be questions about what Sam’s retirement means for South Sydney’s 2020 salary cap and beyond,” Greenberg said.
“There are rules surrounding these matters and it’s important we take our time to work through the facts with South Sydney in a considered and methodical manner.”
Those close to Burgess knew he was giving serious thought to walking away about a month ago. The Herald can reveal Burgess reached the decision last Wednesday night. He then jetted out to Mexico, where he will remain for a few days.
Burgess sent a heartfelt message to his Souths teammates early on Wednesday. Damien Cook was completing a weights session with the Kangaroos in Auckland and privately knew what he was about to read. He had an inkling when chatting with Burgess last week.
“I could tell it in his voice, I don’t think he wanted to tell me then because I didn’t want to hear it,” Cook said.
“He let the whole team know this morning. It was a long message about how he was retiring, how much he loved the boys and cared about them.”
Another Souths star about to make his Kangaroos debut, Cameron Murray, said of the news: “There was speculation around it. No one thought it was going to be true.
“That’s the reality of rugby league, and Sam being the person he is and the way he plays. He is one of the toughest to have played the game. A decade in the NRL takes its toll.”
When the players gathered for an end-of-season drink, Burgess gave no hint he was done. His brother Tom is now the only family member remaining at Redfern. The brothers have rarely seen each other since the NRL season finished, but Tom knew his older brother had been seriously troubled by his suspect shoulder.
“He had a bit of pain and had that infection. From there something wasn’t right. Something happened,” Tom said.
“It can get really bad, those infections. Something has happened to the shoulder. The doctors said they can’t do much for it. That’s the reality of it.”
Tyson Frizell has been tossed up as a potential replacement for Burgess. Cook would love him to come on board. The pair played junior football together, attended the same school and now play for NSW and Australia. However, Frizell has a year remaining on his Dragons deal.
“He’s a starting Kangaroos back-rower, he has a lot of speed, power, skill, you play against him and he’s hard to handle. Any club would love to have him,” Cook said.
“It’s a bit fresh to talk about replacing Sam, but we do have to move on eventually, and that’s what he wants us to do. If Tyson wants to come over he’s more than welcome.”
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga said Burgess was the best Englishman he had seen in the game, alongside Balmain favourite Ellery Hanley.
“He’s been a great warrior and a great fella and great for the game. It is sad news,” Meninga said.
SAM’S SHOULDER DRAMAS
- Subluxed shoulder in 2010;
- Required second operation after re-injuring shoulder the following year;
- Further surgery after round 13 of this year after injury in round five;
- Infection following complications to last surgery forces premature retirement.
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.