Sam Burgess and David Fifita
Sam Burgess and David Fifita

Burgess exit means open season for Rabbitohs

SAM Burgess put the fear of God into rival players and clubs with his aggression on the field during his stellar career.

Nothing has changed in retirement, as the ripple effect of his sudden decision threatens to cause palpitations across the NRL.

The Rabbitohs have opened talks with the NRL over salary cap relief for Burgess, the outcome potentially handing Souths a multimillion-dollar war chest that would enable them to join the big spenders in chasing the game's elite.

The decision - NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg will take advice from chief medical Paul Bloomfield and salary cap boss Richard Gardham before making a final determination - could have significant ramifications for the likes of Parramatta, Canterbury,the Sydney Roosters and the Wests Tigers.

Souths have already been linked with St George Illawarra forward Tyson Frizell, Brisbane backrower David Fifita and Roosters centre Latrell Mitchell.

Frizell is believed to be considering his future at the Dragons and there is every chance he could be given the green light to move early should St George Illawarra be in position to sign a backrower to replace him, the logical option being disgruntled Tigers forward Ryan Matterson.

 

Sam Burgess’ premature exit has ramifications for the wider player market.
Sam Burgess’ premature exit has ramifications for the wider player market.

 

Fifita is expected to sign a one-year extension with Brisbane, but could have his head turned by Wayne Bennett and a bumper offer from Souths.

Mitchell is the other significant name in the mix, although he was expected to step up talks with the Roosters this week.

Parramatta have been linked with more than one of those players, and the Eels are watching the Souths situation with interest,cognisant of the impact it could have on their plans.

Canterbury, too, are no doubt wary of the NRL's decision given they are another club in the market with money to spend, having held discussions with English forward Luke Thompson.

Souths have a longstanding interest in Thompson, and will have the financial artillery to make a move for the Englishman should they receive a favourable hearing from the NRL.

Those players aside, Canterbury captain Josh Jackson and Gold Coast forward Jai Arrow have both been associated with Souths in recent weeks.

Jackson has opened talks with the Bulldogs over an extension beyond next season and there is confidence that a deal will be done.

Arrow has been in talks with rival clubs and was given his first chance by Bennett when they were at the Broncos, but the Titans remain optimistic they can strike a deal with the Queensland State of Origin star.

A move for any of those players is contingent on the NRL ruling in Souths' favour.

The Rabbitohs will be relying on a series of clauses that dictate that the salary cap auditor can provide the club with relief if the shoulder injury that ended Burgess's career wasn't the result of a previous injury or caused by a predictable degenerative condition.

It has been widely reported that Burgess suffered an infection after undergoing surgery on his shoulder midway through the year, the effect that he was left with little choice but to retire.

Souths will argue that his retirement fits into the category of being a single event rather than a pre-existing or predictable problem.

 

Brisbane Broncos prodigy David Fifita is one of the names in the mix for Souths.
Brisbane Broncos prodigy David Fifita is one of the names in the mix for Souths.

 

It is understood the medical advice was damning. Burgess could have attempted a range of procedures to extend his career - stem cell surgery among them - but was told that there was no guarantee of success.

Faced with the prospect of a painstaking recovery with no certainty that he could play on, Burgess opted to retire.

"It really has been a fantastic ride," Burgess wrote in an emotional letter to fans.

"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.

"I'm sure you'll agree with me, the spirit of South Sydney is alive and will live long after me. It will always be a huge part of my heart. Just like it is yours."

It is understood the NRL has been furnished with reports from medical specialists backing Souths position, although a decision from the governing body could take weeks.

"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."

Meanwhile, Frizell's manager Mick Lowe confirmed talks had been held with the Dragons and they had indicated they were keen to retain his services.

Frizell has been in camp with the Australian side and has put off talk over his future until after his international commitments are finished.

"There's certainly no shortage of interest in him that's for sure," Lowe said.