Drugs, sex, domestic violence: football’s dark cover-up
NRL powerhouse club South Sydney Rabbitohs covered up alleged drug use, domestic violence and harassment to protect star player Sam Burgess, and is accused of using fake identities to hide positive tests for illegal substances.
By SHARRI MARKSON and JESSICA HALLORAN and CLAIRE HARVEY
NRL powerhouse club South Sydney Rabbitohs covered up alleged drug use, domestic violence and harassment to protect a star player, and is accused of using fake identities to hide positive tests for illegal substances.
Officials from the Russell Crowe-owned club were aware of the destructive lifestyle of superstar Sam Burgess, and promoted him to captain despite knowing of his behaviour.
Burgess, 31, is now employed in a coaching role at the club.
A four-month investigation by The Australian has uncovered pharmaceutical records, sworn statements to NSW Police, statutory declarations, witness accounts, call logs, emails, text messages, bank records, WhatsApp exchanges and Uber receipts detailing Burgess’s alleged episodes of drug use, domestic violence and abusive behaviour.
Souths chief medical officer Andrew McDonald treated Burgess during a drug-fuelled episode on November 6, 2018, and injected him with liquid tranquilliser — but wrote the prescription in another person’s name, according to pharmacy records obtained by The Australian.
In the wake of this incident, Burgess underwent a secret drug test with a different doctor on November 7, 2018, in the underground car park of South Sydney Juniors club, where he allegedly tested positive for MDMA and ketamine.
The drug tests were allegedly recorded under a fake name, according to sworn statements provided to NSW Police.
Dr McDonald was present — along with a nurse recommended by the club and another Rabbitohs player — when Burgess allegedly assaulted a heavily pregnant Phoebe Burgess in November 2018. “I don’t have any comment at this stage,” Dr McDonald said in response to questions submitted by The Australian.
Officials at the highest levels of the club were also notified about Burgess’s use of drugs in the months prior to his promotion to club captain in April 2019.
Lawyer Mark O’Brien, acting for Burgess, last night strongly denied all allegations. “The allegations are false and constitute an indefensible defamation against my client,” Mr O’Brien said.
“It is apparent sources of the false allegations are those currently in dispute with my client over various issues.”
Souths’ handling of its superstar athlete goes to the heart of elite football’s cultural problem: individual clubs suppressing scandals while failing to address the welfare of athletes and their families.
NRL rules require clubs to report to the NRL Integrity Unit any potential incident where a registered player has engaged in conduct that could bring the game into disrepute.
Burgess’s father-in-law, high-profile businessman Mitch Hooke, has for the first time revealed he witnessed Burgess assaulting his heavily pregnant daughter Phoebe during the November 2018 bender by crushing his 116kg body onto her as she screamed. Mr Hooke also said he heard Burgess harangue his wife with verbal abuse. including “you weak c…”.
“I was worried she was going to lose the baby,” Mr Hooke said when contacted by The Australian about the incident.
“You could tell she was in pain. She was inconsolable, she was crying. There was this wail, you can’t describe it. As a father, I can’t think of anything that was more traumatic in my life. If anyone who is a father or mother and hears their child let out that wail, it was deep and came out from right down inside, it was utter fear and traumatised like nothing I’ve ever heard. I will never, ever forget.”
Sam Burgess is currently facing a charge of intimidation (DV related) against Mr Hooke, relating to an October 2019 argument at Mr Hooke’s home.
Police also took an apprehended violence order against Burgess on Mr Hooke’s behalf. The AVO is still in place and Burgess has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing.
In a statement to NSW Police in the AVO proceedings, obtained by The Australian, Phoebe Burgess, 31, wrote: “There have been a lot of issues in my relationship with Sam, including physical violence as well as emotional and psychological abuse. Sam during our relationship has made me feel intimidated and scared. I am fearful that his behaviour will continue and he will not stop intimidating me and making threats against me.”
Approached for comment by The Australian on Thursday, Phoebe Burgess would only say: “This is an extremely painful, difficult time and I am trying to care for my two toddlers while we move on from an extremely traumatic chapter of our lives.”
The NRL is in the midst of a “culture review” under new chairman Peter V’landys after a string of incidents involving individual players being accused of domestic violence and mistreatment of women.
Since Burgess’s retirement in October 2019 he has been employed as a development coach at Souths and mentored by veteran coach Wayne Bennett, positioning Burgess as a leader within the club and league.
Bennett insisted Burgess join him in the NRL’s Project Apollo meetings during the COVID-19 crisis and Burgess on Thursday trained with the Rabbitohs ahead of their elimination final against Newcastle on Sunday.
The Australian can reveal Burgess claimed in private messages in September 2018 that then-NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg told him he would not be suspended over a sexting scandal while it was still being investigated by the NRL and Souths.