Former England rugby league star Sam Burgess has stood down from his roles with Fox Sports and the South Sydney Rabbitohs after the National Rugby League launched an investigation following strong allegations into his conduct.
A four-month investigation by The Australian newspaper claimed that 31-year-old Burgess had committed a string of misconduct allegations, which included domestic violence claims surrounding his ex-wife Phoebe while she was pregnant, and serious allegations that the Souths covered up illegal drug use and failed drugs tests.
Burgess’s lawyer, Mark O’Brien, has strongly denied the allegation in response to the article, which was released in Australia on Thursday, but Burgess has confirmed that he will no longer continue his punditry role with NRL broadcasters Fox or his coaching role with his former club.
“I have today stood down from all work commitments,” Burgess said.
The Australian released the allegations after uncovering “pharmaceutical records, sworn statements to NSW Police, statutory declarations, witness accounts, call logs, emails, text messages, bank records, WhatsApp exchanges and Uber receipts” that revealed alleged episodes of drug use, domestic violence and abusive behaviour.
Burgess and wife Phoebe separated in December 2018, just weeks after the birth of their son Billy, but their divorce was not finalised until April this year. The pair also have a daughter together, Poppy.
O’Brien issued a strong denial of the allegations on behalf of Burgess, and claimed that the allegations had been passed on to the newspaper by sources who are “currently in dispute” with the 26-cap former international.
“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.”
However, the NRL’s governing authority, the ARLC, have launched an investigation into the allegations to decide whether Burgess and the Souths have a case to answer.
ARLC chairman Peter V’landys rsaid on Friday morning: “We’ll investigate them (claims), no doubt about that.
“But I stress, all parties including the South Sydney club and 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.”
He added: "If the allegations are proven to be correct, and there's a long way to go yet, because they have to be proven and everyone should be given due process and natural justice, but if they are proven, they're pretty serious."
The NRL confirmed that a “comprehensive investigation” had been launched into the allegations, with chief executive Andrew Abdo adding: "These allegations are very serious and I’ve instructed the Integrity Unit to investigate the claims as a priority.
"We will also seek the advice of police and other relevant authorities throughout this process."
South Sydney Rabbitohs have also pledged to treat the allegations with “the utmost seriousness”, and added that they welcome a full investigation into the claims that involves several staff members at the club, including co-owner Russell Crowe.
“The allegations in today’s The Australian newspaper are very concerning and the club is treating them with the utmost seriousness,” a statement from the Rabbitohs read.
“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.”
The allegations have also been passed on to New South Wales police, who are looking into the matter.
In a statement, a New South Wales state police spokesperson said: "On Wednesday 30th September officers from the Hume Police District received a report outlining various allegations relating to the conduct of a 31-year-old man.
"Police have commenced inquiries, however as these inquiries are in their infancy there will be no further comment made at this time."
Following Burgess’s separation from his wife, Phoebe’s father took out an apprehended violence order (AVO) against the rugby league star, with court proceedings connected to the AVO - in which Burgess faces charges of intimidation involving his former father-in-law Mitchell Hooke - due to resume next month.
Burgess is one of the biggest names in rugby league but was forced to retire last year after suffering from a chronic shoulder injury. The forward started his career with Super League outfit Bradford Bulls before securing a move to NRL side Souths in 2010, which proved the first of two spells with the club as he returned following an ill-fated spell in rugby union with Bath and England, which saw him heavily blamed for the poor showing at the 2015 Rugby World Cup following his last-minute selection by Stuart Lancaster.
Burgess won the NRL with Souths in 2014, collecting the Clive Churchill Medal for his man-of-the-match performance in the Grand Final after playing through the pain barrier with a fractured eye socket, and made 24 appearances for England’s rugby league team on top of two more appearances for Great Britain.
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