One thing about Sam Burgess is for sure: he has never been boring.
He gives 100 per cent to whatever he does. There is no grey area.
However, there is now a lot of grey area around his future in the game.
It seems that a chronic shoulder injury may bring the curtain down on the career of the big lad from Dewsbury in Yorkshire, just shy of his 31st birthday.
He still has a contract with the Rabbitohs for three more years for a reported amount of $1.2 million a season. Burgess is highly unlikely to walk away from that.
However, the Rabbitohs can’t afford to have ten per cent of their salary cap tied up with one player if he is likely to miss a large amount of the games.
The best scenario is for the NRL to allow the Rabbitohs to pay out Burgess the reported $3.6 million so he can retire, without it counting towards their salary cap.
A similar situation occurred with Greg Inglis at the beginning of the 2019 season. It made lots of people unhappy. A lot of the other teams and their fans thought the NRL showed the Rabbitohs undue favouritism and gave them an unfair advantage.
As a result, the NRL may well be hesitant to allow the Rabbitohs to pay Burgess out.
My understanding is that it may hinge on whether the injury is considered to be a new injury or an existing one.
There is contention that, while the injury may have worsened as a result of an infection following surgery, Burgess has been carrying the issue since 2016.
The best result for all parties is that Burgess overcomes his injury and is able to play out his contract.
Sam Burgess is an enormous presence on the field. There is no question that he leads the way for his side. He is an alpha wolf and a bully. He regularly dominates his opponents and seizes the ascendency for his team.
This season he was the leading metre-gainer for his side, running the ball an average of 15 times a game and averaging 70 minutes of game time. He also gave away a penalty almost every game. However, that was often a demonstration of his strategic nous.
In Round 10, I witnessed Burgess personally leading his side to victory. With his side exhausted following a glut of possession to their opponents, the Canberra Raiders, Burgess ensured that the Green Machine couldn’t capitalise.
He – ably assisted by his little brother George – gave away eight penalties in a 17-minute period. It totally disrupted the Raiders’ attack. That the Rabbitohs came away with a four-point win owed no small part to the interference he deliberately caused.
There is no question that he has had a massive impact on South Sydney’s fortunes.
Since his return to the cardinal-and-myrtle in 2016, the Rabbitohs have had a 51 per cent win ratio (52 wins from 102 matches). When Burgess is not playing, their win ratio drops to 43 per cent.
The problem with Burgess is that there is a very good chance that he’ll be missing more games in the future.
Of the 14 matches he has missed, they only won six. While nine of those absences have been as a result of injury – that troublesome shoulder frequently featuring – five have been because of suspension. And it could have been a lot worse, too. Those five games missed were the result of three suspensions.
Burgess has been charged ten times by the match review committee since the start of 2016. Five times he has entered an early guilty plea to avoid suspension. One time he beat the charge at the judiciary, and in Round 20 this year he managed to argue a charge down from a suspension to a fine.
He wasn’t so lucky with his hair-pull on Billy Smith, getting a one-game suspension. In his absence the following week, the Roosters whipped the Rabbitohs 30-6.
The very manner of Burgess’ game means that he is likely to be the subject of plenty more charges. Mixed with his dodgy shoulder, the chances are high that he’ll be missing more football than he plays. Possibly lots more.
As the Rabbitohs’ marquee player, that’s something they cannot afford – and they know it.
As much as the South Sydney faithful will hate this reality, the best option is for Big Sam to hang up his boots – as long as the Rabbitohs still are able to use that considerable chunk of salary cap to lure the likes of young David Fifita down from the Broncos.
The whole matter hinges on whether the NRL will allow that to happen.
While it’s a very safe bet that the Redfern club will be strongly lobbying for that outcome, it is an equally safe bet that influential clubs like the Broncos and Roosters – who have players that might be tempted away by big money offers – will be lobbying just as hard so that Todd Greenberg’s administration don’t allow it.