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'NRL ornament' Burgess, Souths facing hard call on future and cap

Todd Greenberg has hailed Sam Burgess as an "ornament to the NRL" amid growing fears the Rabbitohs enforcer will be forced into retirement by a debilitating shoulder injury.

Burgess has been meeting with specialists ahead of a South Sydney board meeting this week, where the club's powerbrokers hope to have a definitive idea of whether the English star will play on in 2020 or reluctantly call time on his career.

The infection Burgess suffered following mid-season surgery is believed to have eaten away at his shoulder to the point where recovery is considered unlikely.

"It'd be a shame to not see Sam run out again next year," Greenberg said at Tuesday's 2020 draw launch.

"He's been an ornament to the NRL in the way that he carries himself on the field.

"I know he's got himself into some trouble occasionally with judiciary and match reviews, but he's the sort of player people want to watch.

"He's the sort of player I like to watch. I find him an unbelievable competitor on the field so I hope to see him back. I don't know what his future holds but I hope he's back playing rugby league again next year."

2020 NRL draw announcement

Should the 30-year-old bow out the Rabbitohs could apply for him to be medically retired, with the infection critical to that scenario given it would have been near-impossible to predict when Burgess signed his current contract last year.

Burgess has four more seasons to run on that deal, amounting to around $4 million by the end of 2023.

NRL salary cap rules state that for a player to be medically retired, they must have "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".

The fact Burgess had surgery on the same shoulder in October 2018 - before re-signing - could complicate Souths' claims this is not pre-existing injury.

A successful application would give the Rabbitohs serious funds to go to market for a replacement beyond 2020, with representative back-rowers David Fifita, Jai Arrow and Tyson Frizell all able to field official offers from November 1.

Fellow Englishman Luke Thompson, who is currently on tour with Wayne Bennett and Great Britain in New Zealand, is another possible option given he comes off-contract at St Helens at the end of next year.

Should Burgess be forced into retirement, it would see him follow a similar path to captaincy predecessor Greg Inglis, who walked away from his NRL contract earlier this year to take up a new role at the Rabbitohs.

Both Inglis and fellow retiree John Sutton will act as development coaches at Redfern in 2020.

Five key match-ups of the Rabbitohs' 2020 draw

Greenberg denied that the decision on Inglis has 'opened up a can of worms' regarding medical retirements on Tuesday, and said any application to exempt Burgess from the club's salary cap would be treated on its own merits.

"They're very different [situations] because Greg Inglis effectively walked away from his contract, so Greg Inglis is not being paid, so you can't put something in the salary cap when you're not being paid," Greenberg said.

"I think the Sam Burgess one is a little too early to speculate on.

"The rules are very clear in place around career-ending injuries and that's an agreement we made with the clubs and the players' association, so we'll deal with that in the fullness of time but I think it's a bit early to have that discussion yet."

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