Sam Burgess’s sad fall from grace
Sam Burgess was hoping for a Hollywood ending but not even his biggest supporter Russell Crowe could write that script for him.
Marriage troubles, parties on board yachts in Mexico and police matters have kept the NRL icon in the headlines this off-season but for pure footy lovers the biggest news was the announcement this week he was walking away from rugby league.
A bung shoulder that became infected after surgery has rendered one of the most gifted players of his generation incapable of continuing to put his body through hell and at just 30, Burgess has been forced into early retirement.
Widely celebrated as England's greatest ever rugby league export, Burgess's professional career has come to a sad end as personal issues soak up more and more space in newspapers.
So how did he go from Souths golden boy to someone charged with intimidation of his father-in-law?
RUSTY TO THE RESCUE
The man courted by the Gladiator himself developed into a rugby league gladiator who established a reputation as one of the hardest nuts to ever pack down in a scrum.
A baby-faced tyro playing for Bradford in the north of England, Burgess desperately wanted to crack the NRL but no clubs were interested. That was until Aussie actor Crowe - co-owner of South Sydney - picked up the phone and offered him a gig with the Rabbitohs.
Initially Burgess was hellbent on joining Manly, having played with Sea Eagles great Steve Menzies in the UK, but after meeting with Crowe on set while he was filming Robin Hood, a deal was eventually struck to bring the raw-boned tearaway to Redfern.
SAM MAKES HIS MARK DOWN UNDER
He'd already represented England during his stint with Bradford but Burgess hit new heights in Australia.
A big man who could play big minutes and pull off even bigger hits, the 116kg lock quickly became the leader of the Souths pack and the face of the club. His skill and footwork was exquisite for a forward and he had the toughness to match, becoming known as someone who didn't just play through the pain barrier but steamrolled over it.
Never was Burgess's toughness more evident than in the 2014 grand final when he led the Rabbitohs to their first premiership in 43 years by defeating the Bulldogs. On the first tackle of the game he collided with countryman and England teammate James Graham, fracturing his eye socket and cheekbone, but he played on and won the Clive Churchill Medal as the best player on the field.
An emotional Burgess cried tears of joy on that drought-breaking night, which he described as a moment he would never forget.
BURGESS BURNED BY FAILED EXPERIMENT
Burgess left Souths and rugby league altogether at the end of 2014, changing codes and representing his country of birth at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
England had a shocker and Burgess copped a torrent of criticism, shouldering much of the blame for the team failing to advance to the knockout stage of the tournament.
Former Ireland star Gordon D'Arcy slammed a "naive" Burgess for costing England a game against Wales and there were plenty of naysayers questioning how someone with such limited experience in the 15-man game could have been entrusted with so much responsibility on the biggest stage.
Burgess later said selfish players and oversized egos were to blame for England's disastrous exit and he recommitted to rugby league just a few weeks after the World Cup, returning to Souths for season 2016.
SEXTING CONTROVERSY ROCK RABBITOHS
Souths missed the finals in Burgess's first two years back in Sydney, leading to the sacking of Bunnies premiership-winning coach Michael Maguire.
The club's on-field fortunes picked up in 2018 but Burgess was rocked by an off-field scandal before the Rabbitohs were due to face arch-enemies the Roosters in the preliminary final.
A woman alleged she was exposed to inappropriate images in a video chat from one of Burgess's social media accounts with other Souths players.
The woman emailed the club about the incident, saying she felt violated and alleging some players exposed themselves to her.
Souths conducted an investigation in the matter and cleared Burgess and his teammates of any wrongdoing.
MARRIAGE TROUBLES BECOME PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE
Burgess admitted his biggest concern about the sexting scandal was the impact it had on his family and while things appeared rosy when he and wife Phoebe - who he married in 2015 after meeting the year before - brought their second child into the world, news soon broke the pair had split.
William, nicknamed Billy, was born in December last year but Sam and Phoebe's relationship was on the rocks over the festive period. Images of Sam were deleted from Phoebe's social media accounts and the bullocking back-rower was spotted leaving their Sydney home with bags, not wearing his wedding ring.
Unsubstantiated rumours of a family feud between Phoebe and the tight-knit Burgess clan also did the rounds.
RECONCILIATION DOESN'T LAST
After the initial separation Sam and Phoebe appeared to reconcile earlier this year. Speaking to Stellar magazine in April, Phoebe said: "We are together, we are married. I've always believed that in the end, love conquers all."
The pair were photographed together on several occasions with their kids and it looked like their marriage was back on track as Sam reappeared on Phoebe's Instagram profile.
However, after attempting to make things work, Sam and Phoebe reportedly split for a second time and according to The Daily Telegraph are living in separate residences.
"They tried to give it a go but it just didn't work," a source close to the couple told The Daily Telegraph last month.
SAM'S WILD WAYS SUGGESTED THE END WAS NEAR
Before an official announcement on Burgess's future had been made the 30-year-old was spotted partying on a boat in Mexico last weekend suggesting his mind was anywhere else but on rehabilitation and the football field.
Burgess could be seen hoisting a woman up on his shoulders - including the injured shoulder that ultimately ended his career.
Spotted wearing nothing but a hat, necklace and leopard-print sarong, it looked like Burgess had already come to the conclusion his footy career was over.
POLICE GET INVOLVED
Burgess's Mexican sojourn came just a week after police took out a temporary apprehended violence order against him after an incident involving Phoebe's father Mitchell Hooke in Bowral.
Burgess will make an appearance at Moss Vale Local Court just days before Christmas, charged with intimidation after the reported dispute with Hooke.
NSW Police confirmed the footy icon was charged on Wednesday after officers were called to an address at Glenquarry, east of Bowral, in relation to a domestic dispute. No one was injured in the incident.
"It's alleged the man intimidated the older man during the incident," NSW Police said in a statement this week.
ON-FIELD ISSUES SPARK CRUEL END TO A GLITTERING CAREER
The Rabbitohs went within one game of making the grand final this year but Burgess endured a horror time on the field in a season plagued by injury and ill-discipline.
He was charged three times in 2019 and missed the first week of the finals after pleading guilty to pulling the hair of Roosters player Billy Smith. He then described the judiciary system as a "kangaroo court" and was fined $10,000 and forced to apologise.
Burgess's inexplicable hair pull ramped up talk his poor disciplinary record would tarnish his legacy, having been charged 16 times and banned for 11 matches since his NRL debut in 2010.
The tough-as-nails enforcer's reputation was copping a battering and so was his body. Burgess first dislocated his left shoulder in a Test against Papua New Guinea in 2010 and again in 2011, requiring a second reconstruction.
He re-injured his shoulder in round five this year but played on until midway through the season when he underwent a surgical clean-out. The procedure was supposed to keep Burgess out of action for two matches but instead he missed nearly two months, hospitalised with complications as a drip was inserted into his heart to fight infection.
A quad injury rubbed Burgess out of two matches late in the season and his shoulder was still troubling him. That much was obvious as he regularly clutched at it during the Rabbitohs' loss to Canberra in the preliminary final.
Post-season there were reports Burgess could barely lift his arm and his shoulder joint was ruined, left with only 25 per cent of the bone. Sadly, it's what cost him his career - a career Burgess desperately wished had more legs left in it.
"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," Burgess wrote in a statement.
"I am no longer able to be myself day in, day out on the training field and consequently the playing field."