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After Phoebe Burgess' husband was implicated in a sexting scandal, she called the woman involved.

Phoebe Burgess can still remember the look on her then-husband's face when he learned his role in an NRL sexting scandal would be made public. 

Nauseous. Drained-white in panic. 

It was September 2018, and reports had already been circulating that players in the South Sydney Rabbitohs had exposed themselves to a 23-year-old woman in a series of video chats four months prior — exchanges, the recipient said, that left her feeling "violated and uncomfortable". 

By the time the media had the name 'Sam Burgess' there was no stopping the story. The British-born forward was among the biggest names in the sport, a married man, and a father of one with a second child on the way. 

The papers would sell themselves.

Watch: Phoebe Burgess on identity, motherhood and 'getting on with it'. 


Video via Mamamia

When the phonecall came to ready Sam for the headlines, he and Phoebe, who was pregnant at the time, were walking out of a cinema in Sydney's Bondi Junction.

"He started looking around frantically, I thought he was going to be sick," Phoebe told Mamamia. "And I just remember sort of carrying him, holding him through the [shopping] centre."

In the moment that Phoebe Burgess' marriage was threatened, she held up her husband. Supported him. Comforted him. Even readied herself to publicly defend him.

Speaking to Mamamia's No Filter podcast after years of silence, the journalist-turned-influencer believes now that her willingness to shoulder Sam's misdeeds was about more than just love and loyalty. It was the default response she'd learned as the wife of an NRL player.

"I was so sucked in."

Though the scandal went public in September 2018, it was first reported to the Rabbitohs on May 27 — shortly after the exchange.

The woman involved emailed the club to alert them that a "funny Facetime chat" with several players turned lewd when one exposed their genitals to her without her consent. When the club failed to address her repeated inquiries [an internal investigation later concluded her follow-up emails had been marked as spam], she approached the media.

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Speaking about the scandal at the time, Sam Burgess said he was "happy for the truth to come out" via a then-pending investigation by the NRL Integrity Unit. He and the other players involved insisted the exchange had been entirely consensual.

"It’s been a tough process to go through... but fortunately I’ve got a strong wife," he said.

"A wife who loves me."

Phoebe Burgess conceded to Mamamia that she was, at the time, her husband's "ultimate defender".

Phoebe said she swallowed the narrative that suited them best, which was the one playing out in some segments of the media, on popular footy forums, and within the code itself.

Sam Burgess had been lured into a 'honey trap' by an obsessed fan. Sam Burgess had been tricked. Sam Burgess was the victim.

One commentator even speculated whether "perhaps a personal, genuine apology from the players involved and a couple of season tickets would have put the matter to rest". Another pointed to a theory that the woman was a Roosters fan looking to destabilise the Rabbitohs.

Sam Burgess. Image: Getty.

Today, Phoebe can see that she'd "swallowed up the story" she'd been given into blinding supporting her then-husband. 

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When asked if she'd been gaslit, she said: "I didn't know the term back then... I had no idea..." 

She added: "That became such a huge part of my relationship in lots of different ways, on lots of different levels; being told 'You don't remember it properly. You're not seeing it right. You don't know the whole story. What you think, that's not true, darling. Let's think about it. Let's rehash it, let's revisit it, let's rewrite the narrative.' 

"I was so sucked in," she said.

The NRL's investigation ultimately concluded that the men, including Sam, had not committed any "actionable misconduct".

But in the meantime, a second scandal had surfaced.

A Melbourne woman had come forward with text messages suggesting she and Sam Burgess had a weeks-long affair while he was captaining England in the Rugby League World Cup in 2017. (The now-retired player publicly acknowledged the affair this year during his victorious appearance on the reality show, SAS Australia.)

"That night–" Phoebe said, her voice catching as she recalled the revelation, "that night broke me."

Phoebe and Sam split in 2019. 

"I actually ended up speaking to her."

It's only with distance from her marriage and the sporting bubble that Phoebe has been able to truly appreciate the ways in which her life and her relationship felt beyond her control.

"We became a problem that had to be dealt with. So there was no clear air for us to actually figure out our own issues in our own time. It became strategised," she said. 

"Every time there was a scandal, I ended up bundled up and taken up to a property that's owned by somebody close to the club... It was usually places that didn't have Wi-Fi, that were pretty secluded, and they were definitely away from my friends and family."

Phoebe was sent away when the video call scandal broke. Image: Supplied.

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It is by sharing her story publicly and by speaking to women who've made allegations against her husband that Phoebe has begun to see how that culture and those external narratives influenced her thinking.

Among those conversations was one with the woman involved in the 2018 sexting scandal. 

The woman had spoken to a member of the Integrity Unit but declined to be interviewed by the full panel in order to protect her identity. Phoebe wanted to know more. 

"I'm a journalist by trade. I did my own digging," Phoebe said. "I wanted to get to the bottom of what was actually going on here. [The conversation] was hard for me. But she was a lovely girl.

"She was a fan. She loved the sport. She loved the game. She loved the club. She actually loved players she was speaking to, and she thought she was living out a childhood dream of getting to speak to some NRL players, and then descended into what it did."

Phoebe believes now that the woman had nothing to gain from going public with her allegation.

"She didn't go to the police first, she didn't go to the media [first]; she went to the club because she loved the game. And she hoped that there would be something in place to reprimand that player and to make sure the wife knows," she said.

"She was being painted as somebody who wrecked my family. And I wanted to tell her that was not the case, and that it wasn't her fault."

In fact, speaking about the woman, Phoebe now uses the very term she once believed applied to her former husband. Victim.

For more of Phoebe's story, listen to No Filter below, on the Mamamia app, or via your preferred podcast platform. Part One is available now, and stay tuned for Part Two on Thursday, November 18.


Feature image: Getty/Mamamia.

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