His rise to stardom from humble beginnings as a Yorkshire schoolboy to one of England’s greatest-ever sporting exports could be the plot of a Hollywood movie.
Rugby league icon Sam Burgess caught the eye of Hollywood royalty while he was still playing for Bradford Bulls in Super League.
Russell Crowe was so impressed by the former England captain’s uncompromising performances on the pitch that he persuaded him to sign for the South Sydney Rabbitohs in New South Wales, which the Aussie actor has co-owned since 2006.
But Burgess’s fall from grace has possibly curtailed a Hollywood ending.
He has been forced to step down as a coach at the Sydney club following a string of domestic violence and drug use allegations – including that he attacked his heavily-pregnant wife and took Class A drugs cocaine and MDMA.
The retired star, 31, allegedly attacked ex-wife Phoebe Hooke during their three-year marriage, verbally and physically, according to medical records, police statements, legal papers, emails, texts and witness accounts uncovered by The Australian newspaper.
Burgess is said to be “devastated” and has strongly denied all allegations.
His lawyer Mark O’Brien said: “The allegations are false and constitute an indefensible defamation against my client. It is apparent sources of the false
allegations are those currently in dispute with my client over various issues.”
Oscar winner Crowe’s team is also linked after it was claimed the Rabbitohs allegedly used fake identities to protect its star player after failed drug tests – though the club has denied involvement.
The club promoted him to captain in April 2019 despite allegedly being aware of his behaviour off the pitch.
Crowe is a close friend of the Burgess family, a rugby-playing dynasty which included Sam’s dad Mark – who died of motor-neurone disease in 2007.
Burgess was 15 when he was told his dad was seriously ill. While his three brothers lived with their mum, Sam lived with his dad and nursed him – even carrying him upstairs to bed each night and paying his bills.
He admitted that tough period made him grow up fast: “I learned not to take things for granted. It has made me stronger but colder, too, in a way.”
Burgess, who grew up in Dewsbury, West Yorks, was 17 and launching his rugby career when Mark died. In 2010, he moved to “Souths” in Australia’s National Rugby League – after meeting Crowe on the set of Robin Hood in Hertfordshire.
Burgess became a gladiator of the Aussie game as Crowe took him under his wing. Burgess said: “For the first week or two I spent every day with him. We’d get on bikes and cycle around Sydney. It was a great experience.”
His three brothers Tom, George and Luke also signed for Souths – and all four played together in a 2013 match.
Burgess helped the Rabbitohs win the 2014 NRL Grand Final, despite the man of the match breaking his cheekbone in the first minute. Congratulating the forward later as he faced surgery, Crowe called him “the sparkly-eyed man”.
After four years at the Rabbitohs, Burgess went to play union for Bath and soon made the England squad for their
ill-fated 2015 World Cup campaign.
Burgess was reunited with Crowe when returned to league with the Rabbitohs before injury finished him.
Crowe is believed to have counselled him through his struggles, treating him “like a son” while Burgess has said he is “forever indebted” to the actor.
When a shoulder injury forced Bur-gess into early retirement and a career in coaching, Crowe hailed him a hero. Days later, police charged Burgess with intimidating his estranged wife’s father.
Phoebe’s dad Mitch claims he saw Burgess assault his heavily pregnant daughter in November 2018: “I was worried she was going to lose the baby. You could tell she was in pain.” The couple split in 2018, weeks after the birth of son Billy, but later reconciled.
They also have a daughter Poppy, three. Mr Hooke also claimed he heard Burgess call his daughter “weak”.
In a police statement, Phoebe wrote: “There have been a lot of issues in my relationship with Sam, including physical violence as well as emotional and psychological abuse. Sam… has made me feel intimidated and scared.”
She also alleged: “I was bath-ing the kids when Sam heard me sniffling and crying quietly. He walked into the bathroom and told me to ‘get the f*** up, you piece of s***’, ‘why are you f***ing crying in front of my children’.”
Phoebe allegedly appealed to Crowe for help. In texts to him from November 2018, she allegedly said: “I thought we had the world at our feet together. He might need a good friend because he is just not our Sam.”
Burgess reportedly messaged her later, saying: “Why did you message RC saying everything. I am at work today fixing the club and now they think I’m a drug addict. What are you trying to solve here. Such lies.”
Burgess’s mum Julie was apparently summoned for crisis talks with him after the revelations. Sworn statements also allege he failed drug tests, recorded under a fake name as part of an alleged cover-up.
The Rabbitohs club denies any involvement and released a statement saying the allegations would be treated with the “utmost seriousness”. Burgess also stepped down as a TV pundit and the NRL has launched an investigation.
New South Wales Police announced they had launched Strike Force Irrabella to investigate the allegations.