Retirement fears deepen for Burgess

 

Sam Burgess left for America this week armed with specialist's advice and a decision to make.

There is every chance by this time next week, South Sydney's captain will have announced his retirement due to a shoulder injury that has eaten away at the bone and his effectiveness.

News Corp understands Burgess held talks with medical specialists and Souths officials in recent days over his future and even those who have spent years waxing lyrical about his toughness are now questioning whether he can go on.

Burgess may have played his final game. AAP Image/Lukas Coch.
Burgess may have played his final game. AAP Image/Lukas Coch.

Burgess has been a warrior for Souths, and before that Bradford in Super League. Yet the longer the story of his shoulder has dragged on, the more likely it has become that he has played his last game of rugby league. Remarkably, at the age of 30 - he turns 31 next month - Burgess's stellar career may be over.

His retirement will leave a huge hole at Souths, although Burgess will remain involved at the club in some capacity.

There are some at the Rabbitohs who believe he could eventually become a coach, following the same path that is expected to be travelled by his great mate James Graham.

In the interim, he is likely to perform a similar role to recently retired Greg Inglis and John Sutton. They will be auxiliary coaches next season, as well as mentors to the club's emerging leaders.

Burgess may have played his final game in first grade. Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images.
Burgess may have played his final game in first grade. Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images.

Replacing Burgess on the field may be easier than it would appear, at least the version that played for Souths in 2019. Burgess had one of his most difficult seasons - he clashed with officialdom off the field and struggled to be the same force on it.

He appeared distracted and unsettled, his shoulder woes no doubt playing a part. Nevertheless, he remained a talismanic figure at one of the game's most powerful clubs.

He has four years remaining on a deal that is due to pay him upwards of $4 million and provided Souths get some salary cap dispensation for his departure, they will be armed with a war chest and ready to swoop.

That contract, and the medical Burgess underwent prior to its signing, is expected to play a part in any application for cap dispensation. Rabbitohs head of football Shane Richardson is a sage operator, having already mounted a successful argument to have Inglis removed from their cap.

Burgess has carried a bad shoulder for several years now. Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images.
Burgess has carried a bad shoulder for several years now. Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images.

Burgess would free up further funds and plenty of them. Fellow Englishman Luke Thompson, a star at St Helens this year, is on their wishlist but he won't be available until 2021. Regardless, Souths are an attractive club and Wayne Bennett still has the capacity to weave his recruiting magic when needed.

The greater challenge for Souths will be finding someone to fill the leadership void. Should Burgess go, it means Souths will have lost their past three captains in rapid succession following the retirement of Inglis and Sutton.

Cameron Murray is viewed as a future captain not just for his club but his state and potentially country.

Next year, however, may be too soon for the 21-year-old, who is both intelligent and wise beyond his years.