Police, NRL probe drugs, violence claims against England ace Burgess

Sydney (AFP) –

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Australian police and the National Rugby League (NRL) have launched investigations into allegations of drugs, violence and a cover-up involving former England star Sam Burgess and the South Sydney Rabbitohs, officials said Friday.

Burgess, through his lawyer, has denied the claims, which included the need for a liquid tranquiliser after a drug-fuelled binge, failed drugs tests and violence against his former wife during his years with the Russell Crowe-owned club.

The allegations surfaced in a report Friday in The Australian newspaper that revealed pharmaceutical records, statements to police, witness accounts, emails, text messages and bank records detailing the behaviour of the former South Sydney Rabbitohs captain.

The newspaper said the club allegedly used fake identities to cover up positive tests for the use of illegal substances by its star player.

It claimed that after one drug-fuelled episode in 2018, he was injected with liquid tranquilliser from a prescription in another person's name.

"These allegations are very serious and I’ve instructed the Integrity Unit to investigate the claims as a priority," NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said.

New South Wales police issued a brief statement saying they had 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."

Burgess, 31, spent most of his playing career in Australia with South Sydney while also playing 24 rugby league matches for England and, in a brief code-switch, playing five rugby union Tests for England, including at the 2015 World Cup.

The Australian report said Phoebe Burgess, who split from her husband in 2018, had informed Crowe of her husband's behaviour.

In a statement to police, obtained by the newspaper, she said she had been subjected to "physical violence as well as emotional and psychological abuse".

The NRL is undergoing a "culture review" following a series of incidents over many years involving players being accused of domestic violence and mistreatment of women.

The accusations levelled at Burgess would be subjected to "a thorough investigation", Abdo said.

"There is no place in our game for violence, harassment or abuse against women. If anyone is found guilty of these allegations we will take the strongest possible action."

Since his retirement at the end of last year, Burgess has been retained by South Sydney as a development coach.