“I have loved absolutely every minute; the highs, the lows; the grand final; coming home; my injuries; my dates with the judiciary. It really has been a fantastic ride,” Burgess said.
“This decision was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make in my life, however the decision was out of my hands essentially. I am no longer able to be myself day in, day out on the training field and consequently the playing field.
“I will not be playing in the NRL next season. My time has come to an end. I’m excited for my next chapter in life whatever that may be.
“I’d like to encourage everyone to smile as they read this. Let’s all remember what we have done together as a club over the past decade rather than what’s not to be in the coming years.
“We have some amazing young men at the club and it’s in safe hands. I will stay close and help grow the club continually in any way I can.
“To my teammates and coaches along the way, I’d like to thank you all for being supportive and great men. I’ve learnt so much in my ten years here. From the young boys all the way through to ‘the fossil’ John Sutton. I value each friendship created and they’ll last a lifetime.
“To Russell – for making all this happen initially – I’ll be forever indebted to you. Your passion is infectious.
“My family have been by my side the whole way, on and off the field. I love you all so much.
“Maybe I’ll come and watch a game in The Burrow next year. You truly are the heartbeat of the club.”
The club is now likely to hit the market for a marquee forward with Brisbane’s David Fifita and St George Illawarra’s Tyson Frizell both linked with South Sydney.
Burgess was regarded as one of the toughest players in the game but struggled with injury this year and spent extra time on the sidelines because of complications with shoulder surgery.
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga was surprised by the news when informed before training.
“He’s been a great warrior and a great fella and great for the game. It is sad news,” Meninga said.
“Knowing Sam, he’ll be bitterly disappointed.
“He doesn’t deserve to go out that way, he deserves to go out on his terms, and to be struck down by injury that prevents him from playing any more, that’s a real tragedy.
“I remember going back to the Four Nations in 2016 and he was a central piece to [England]. Sam came back from his stint in rugby and rekindled the interest in the international program . . . he’s been a great ornament to the game and great ambassador for rugby league.”
Meninga said Burgess was the best Englishman he had seen in the game, closely followed by Balmain favourite Ellery Hanley.
As for the future captaincy of the Rabbitohs, Bennett likes Cameron Murray, who will make his Kangaroos debut on Saturday, as a long-term prospect but said the forward wouldn’t be ready to skipper the club for at least a couple of years.
“Sam Burgess has been a true champion of our game,” said NRL CEO Todd Greenberg.
“He inspired so many players from the UK to want to play in the NRL. Our competition is stronger today because of Sam’s influence. His heroics in the 2014 Grand Final will forever remain in NRL folklore, as will his status as a South Sydney legend.
“There’ll obviously be questions about what Sam’s retirement means for South Sydney’s 2020 salary cap and beyond. 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. “
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.