South Sydney's explanation around the shock departure of club legend Sam Burgess has raised eyebrows across the NRL world, with league great Benny Elias describing the saga as "disgusting" and "insulting". Burgess has departed his role as assistant coach at the Bunnies with immediate effect, despite there being two games remaining in the regular season.
The club tried to get on the front foot on Wednesday to explain the reasons behind the bombshell development, with Rabbitohs CEO Blake Solly and coach Jason Demetriou holding a press conference to answer questions about the saga. They explained that Burgess' move to Warrington in 2024 - where he will take up a head coaching role - and impending birth of his baby with partner Lucy Graham were reasons behind his exit.
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South Sydney denied claims of a falling out between Burgess and Demetriou, as well as reports the Englishman was unhappy with the way star players Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker had reportedly been given preferential treatment. Widespread reports claimed Burgess and fellow assistant John Morris - who was spared the axe on Wednesday - were unimpressed that Mitchell and Walker weren't being held to the same standard as teammates at training.
League world not buying story around Sam Burgess
Discussing the saga on NRL 360 on Wednesday night, the panel debated South Sydney's version of events around club legend Burgess' shock exit, with Fox League's James Hooper describing it as "smoke and mirrors". He confirmed reports that owner Russell Crowe joined a phone call between club bosses to try and find a resolution to the Burgess situation, but claims Crowe hung up on Burgess when no middle ground could be found.
“Make no mistake, there’s been a major fallout between Sam Burgess and Jason Demetriou. It’s been brewing in the background over the past couple of months,” Hooper said. “What happened today was that all of South Sydney’s club management and also all of the players were called into an emergency meeting first thing this morning at 7am and by 8am, Sammy Burgess was out the door. They hadn’t been able to resolve their differences.
“Russell Crowe got on the phone at one point and ended up hanging up on Sam Burgess. They weren’t able to find middle ground so as a result, Sam departs the club.”
Hooper claims the fact Morris - who is joining the Tigers as an assistant in 2024 - agreed to get on board with the rest of the South Sydney club, meant he was allowed to stay on. It's understood Burgess refused to back down on his assertion that standards were not where they should be at his beloved club - where he became a legend after helping the Bunnies win the 2014 NRL grand final.
League legend disgusted by Sam Burgess saga
Balmain legend Elias was filthy with the way the Burgess saga has played out and said the Englishman has every right to feel "insulted" by the way his time as assistant has ended. “Obviously what’s happened, with two games to go, to be asked to leave the place is disgusting, insulting and terrible. There’s no two ways about it,” Elias said. "He expects the highest standards from all of his players and those standards haven’t been met.”
Hooper and fellow league journalist Michael Carayannis claimed Burgess confronted Demetriou with issues he saw in training and in matches, highlighting Mitchell and Walker as two senior players who weren't driving the standards Burgess deemed necessary. Mitchell has come under fire for his lack of effort in an underwhelming display against the Knights on Sunday, that backed up some of Burgess' reported gripes.
“I don’t think Sunday was the breaking point of the relationship. This has been bubbling on in the background for the last couple of months," Carayannis said. “Are there enough players buying into what should be happening at South Sydney and that’s what stems from all the frustrations that Sam has developed over the last couple of months. “He (Burgess) doesn’t believe the senior players are doing enough to drive the standards to a level that is high enough to win a premiership.”
As far as South Sydney's explanation that Burgess left to focus on his new baby and job in Warrington next year, Hooper labelled it a "complete fairytale". “When you strip it all back, this started a couple of months ago and Sam noticed some things around the Bunnies’ training standards, around their discipline in games, certainly around their defensive structures... He called all that out," Hooper said.
"Since it’s made its way into the media over the last 48 hours, that’s what has blown it all up and brought it to a head. I don’t think Jason Demetriou would have been unhappy to see the back of Sam Burgess.”
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