Monday Buzz: Rabbitohs in $3.6m salary cap scrap
The man who will determine the South Sydney Rabbitohs' premiership hopes over the next three years is not supercoach Wayne Bennett.
It is more likely to be Richard Gardham. Richard who?
He is the NRL's chief salary cap auditor and a former accountant at Deloitte who will make the decision on whether Sam Burgess can be medically retired with his shoulder injury without affecting the club's salary cap.
This would allow the Rabbitohs to chase a potential superstar like David Fifita by freeing up Burgess's $1.2 million a year salary ($3.6 million while he is contracted for the next three years.)
This is a situation every club in the game is closely monitoring.
There have been situations in the past (Brett Stewart at Manly and Anthony Watmough at Parramatta) when the NRL ruled they had to stay in the salary cap despite career-ending injuries like the one Burgess potentially has.
There were questions already being asked about the Rabbitohs earlier this year when Greg Inglis retired and the NRL ruled the club could get cap relief.
So we checked out the NRL rules. If a player medically retires, a club must apply to the NRL to seek salary cap relief. There are a couple of stipulations. The salary cap auditor must then study medical records and evidence to determine:
a) The player, at the time of termination, was diagnosed as medically unfit to currently continue to train and play elite-level contact sport and was medically unable to ever return to play elite-level contact sport due to the current level of disability or the significant risk of further disabling injury as a result of playing elite level contract sport.
b) The player had no similar injury or medical condition to that area of the body that either has or could reasonably be predicted medically to lead to a degenerative condition of that area of the body prior to signing his last NRL contract.
Burgess's last contract was signed towards the end of last year.
The club's general manager of football, Shane Richardson, said the injury was suffered this year in round five on April 13 against the New Zealand Warriors on the Sunshine Coast. He did it late in the first half but played out the game.
The very strong tip is Burgess will not play again, not that South Sydney will confirm that.
"We're still going through a process," Richardson said on Sunday.
"Whatever happens, Sam is entitled to get his money. It's a matter of whether we get dispensation in the cap if he is forced to retire. We haven't explored that or gone to the NRL."
Souths claim to have records proving that in Burgess's medical, when he signed in 2018, there was no indication of the shoulder problem that is forcing him out of the game.
"It definitely wasn't a pre-existing injury," Richardson said.
"But we still haven't given up hope that he will play next year."
Others claim there is more to the story. Even an acceptance among Souths' powerbrokers that Sam's ill-discipline, judiciary record and off-field dramas have become too much.
That they might even be quietly encouraging him to walk away.
A decision will have to be made sooner rather than later. Surely Souths can't sit back and wait until March for a decision from the NRL. They have a roster to sort out and will need a significant signing to replace the great English forward.