Sam Burgess’ early exit from rugby union moved a significant step closer with the arrival in England of the NRL’s head of strategy Shane Richardson to discuss a possible return to Sydney.
Richardson, who as South Sydney chief executive finalised the team’s signing of Burgess from Bradford six years ago, has flown over for the Test series between England and New Zealand.
But Press Association Sport understands, he will also seek to negotiate a deal to buy the dual-code international back from Bath using the marquee player fund implemented by outgoing CEO Dave Smith to attract and keep big name stars in the NRL.
Richardson, who left Souths at the same time as Burgess to take up his current role, was a guest of Rugby Football League chief executive Nigel Wood at Twickenham for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final and was present at the first rugby league Test match between England and the Kiwis at Hull’s KC Stadium.
It is clearly the remit of Richardson to remove the only stumbling block to Burgess’ return to the 13-man code – Bath’s insistence on the return of the bulk of the 500,000 they reportedly paid to the Rabbitohs only 12 months ago.
The 26-year-old Burgess, who was a controversial selection for England’s World Cup squad ahead of more established players, has two years left of his contract with Bath and is due to return to the Aviva Premiership club on Monday after being given time off to consider his future.
However, Bath coach Mike Ford admitted the player “didn’t quite feel right” when he initially returned from his unhappy stint with England during their failed World Cup campaign and Press Association Sport understands he told his former rugby league team-mates at their international with France last weekend that he has played his last match of rugby union.
A stark comparison between the almost hysterical criticism heaped on Burgess for his inability to make a bigger impact in rugby union and the idolatry he still enjoys in Sydney, where he defied a shattered cheekbone to lead them to a first premiership for 43 years, makes his return to the Rabbitohs inevitable.
Super League champions Leeds have been linked with a move for the Dewsbury-born player but Burgess clearly feels he has a loyalty to Souths after they agreed to release him early from his contract to enable him to pursue his dream in the 15-man game and also to owner Russell Crowe, the Hollywood actor who lured him to his beloved Rabbitohs six years ago and with whom he remains close friends.
Younger brothers Tom and George recently signed new contracts which will keep them at the club until the end of 2018 while older brother Luke plays for another Sydney club, Manly Sea Eagles, and their mother Julie lives in Sydney after emigrating to Australia four years ago.
In addition to those family ties, Burgess is known to have plans to marry his Australian girlfriend Phoebe Hook in Sydney in December which all points to a confirmed return within days.