Sam Burgess has called time on one of the great careers of modern rugby league.
The England and Great Britain international has announced his immediate retirement at the age of 30 after failing to recover from a chronic shoulder injury that forced him to miss the current Lions tour of New Zealand.
Burgess had a history of shoulder trouble going back to his Bradford days, but South Sydney say the condition only became apparent earlier this year following routine surgery.
In a heartfelt letter to fans, Burgess said: “This decision was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make in my life, however the decision was out of my hands essentially.
“I am no longer able to be myself day in, day out on the training field and consequently the playing field.
“My time has come to an end. I’m excited for my next chapter in life whatever that may be.”
Burgess, who burst onto the scene as a teenager with Great Britain in 2007, was lured to the Rabbitohs by club owner and Hollywood actor Russell Crowe in 2010, arriving in Sydney on his 21st birthday, and immediately became a big hit.
He went on to make 182 appearances for Souths, was named International Player of the Year in 2014 and won his club’s players’ player of the year award five times.
Burgess, who played rugby union for his country at the 2015 World Cup during a brief spell with Bath, won 24 caps for England’s league side in addition to making two appearances for Britain.
Current Lions captain James Graham led the tributes, saying: “He’s a huge loss for our competition in the NRL. Our game’s going to be poorer for him not being there.
“He’s one of the competition’s biggest stars, there’s no doubt about it. The biggest drawcard who puts bums on seats.
“When you go to the Magic Weekend, he’s the player people want to see.
“He was one of England’s and Great Britain’s greatest and one of the NRL’s greatest players of a generation.
“Obviously’s he’s an international superstar, but he’s still a lad from Yorkshire that you can have a beer and a coffee with and a chat about life.”
Graham was the man involved in the first tackle of the 2014 Grand Final in which Burgess suffered a fractured eye socket and cheek bone but went on to play the full game and won the Clive Churchill Medal as man of the match.
Former England captain Jamie Peacock, who is the Great Britain team manager, said: “That performance was the most inspirational and courageous I’ve ever seen by a rugby league player and I don’t think it will be surpassed.
“To fracture your cheekbone like that and go on to win the man of the match, in the biggest game of the year, is absolutely incredible, the best player I ever played alongside.”
Burgess was joined at the Redfern-based club by older brother Luke in 2011 and younger twin siblings George in 2012 and Tom the following year, and all four played together in a match in 2013.
Tom said: “Sam wants us not to feel sad, just celebrate what he has done and the good times we’ve had together and that’s what I’ll be doing.
“He’s made a decision for himself, for his body, and only he can do that. I’m proud of him for having the strength and the will to do that.”
Great Britain coach Wayne Bennett said: “He was one of the drawcards for me in coming to coach at South Sydney. His leadership and capabilities on the field match the man he is off it.
“I’m glad to have played a small role in his career and I feel blessed that he has been part of mine.”