Australian rugby league officials and police will investigate allegations concerning former England forward Sam Burgess and the South Sydney club made in an explosive newspaper report.
The Australian newspaper on Friday published an article it said was based on a four-month investigation, which detailed a string of misconduct allegations against the 31-year-old.
These included domestic violence claims surrounding his ex-wife, allegations of illegal drug use and of a cover-up of the incidents by Souths.
Burgess’s Sydney lawyer, Mark O’Brien, has strongly denied all allegations contained in the lengthy article, which ran on the front page of Australia’s national broadsheet.
On Friday, the game’s top official in Australia, Peter V’landys, said an investigation would be conducted into the claims against Burgess, who retired last year and is now a member of Souths’ coaching staff.
V’landys, chairman of the game’s governing body in the country, the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC), told Sydney radio station 2GB: “It’d be totally inappropriate for me to comment on this particular case. I don’t have sufficient facts and like anyone else in the community, you have to provide due process and natural justice, and Sam should be afforded that.
“But let me stress that the NRL has a zero tolerance and will always have a zero tolerance for violence against women and children.
“But in this instance the appropriate action is to investigate it, get all the facts, and make a judgment after that.”
V’landys added: “Once we have all that information, all the facts, and everybody’s version we will make the appropriate decisions.”
The ARLC oversees the National Rugby League (NRL), which administers Australia’s main club competition, in which Burgess won the premiership with Souths in 2014.
In a statement, a New South Wales state police spokesperson said: “On Wednesday 30th September officers from the Hume Police District received a report outlining various allegations relating to the conduct of a 31-year-old man.
“Police have commenced inquiries, however as these inquiries are in their infancy there will be no further comment made at this time.”
Asked if Souths would also be investigated, V’landys said: “If the allegations are proven to be correct, and there’s a long way to go yet, because they have to be proven and everyone should be given due process and natural justice, but if they are proven, they’re pretty serious.”
In a statement, Mr O’Brien said: “The allegations are false and constitute an indefensible defamation against my client.
“It is apparent sources of the false allegations are those currently in dispute with my client over various issues.”
Burgess and wife Phoebe broke up in December 2018, weeks after the birth of their son, Billy. They also have a daughter, Poppy.
Their divorce after four years of marriage was finalised in April.
Soon after the couple separated last October, an apprehended violence order (AVO) was taken out against Burgess on behalf of his then father-in-law, Mitchell Hooke.
Court proceedings connected to the AVO, in which Burgess faces charges of intimidation involving Hooke, will resume next month.
Burgess started his league career with the Bradford Bulls and has played both union and league, making five appearances for England’s rugby union side, 24 for England’s rugby league team, and playing two games for the Great Britain rugby league team.