It is just 2 weeks until English Rugby League monster ‘Slamming’ Sam Burgess makes his move over from NRL side South Sydney Rabbitohs to union with Aviva Premiership club Bath, and the switch has become highly anticipated by fans of both rugby codes. With the move imminent, we decided to compile a list of successful cross-code switches, as well as some which were not so profitable.
As a boy growing up in Workington Town, Alan Tait was no stranger to rugby league. However, he initially played Union for Kelso and was capped for Scotland in 1987 before making the switch to League - playing for Widnes and Leeds as well as Great Britain and Scotland. With the advent of professionalism in Union in 1996, Tait made the switch back to Union with Newcastle Falcons along with many others. 1997 became his glory year as he once again represented Scotland before traveling to South Africa with the winning British & Irish Lions tour party where he played in both the winning test sides. 1999 saw him lift the last ever Five Nations, and in doing so, become the fifth - and final - player to score a try against every other side in the tournament.
Overall, Tait played 27 games for Scotland, scoring an amazing 17 tries - an incredible record when the majority of these games came after his 9-year break from international rugby union. A true legend of Scottish rugby, and a great example of a dual-code internationalist.
Sonny Bill Williams
Debatably the most renowned cross-crode switch which was a massive success for both league and union. SBW made a name for himself during his time at NRL side Bulldogs, where he scored 31 tries in 73 games. He was then lured over to French union club side Toulon, before appearing for Super 15 sides Crusaders and later The Chiefs. During this time, Williams made 19 appearances for the All Blacks, whilst also being a World Cup winner. He is now back in rugby league with the NRL side Syndey Roosters. He is best known for his world-class offloads and immense physicality.
Another success story from the southern hemisphere is through big Fijian-Australian Lote Tuqiri. The dreadlock-haired winger represented the Australian league team for 10 years, as well as still currently representing his country of birth Fiji. In 2003, Tuqiri switched codes into union to play for the NSW Waratahs. In his decade in union, the winger scored 30 tries in 67 games for the Wallabies, as well as making 107 appearances for the Waratahs, Leicester Tigers and Irish club Leinster combined. The powerful player is now back in rugby league, and currently plays for the Rabbitohs.
The big Welshman has been known for his antics off the pitch, including a golf-buggy incident (check out our blog on ‘Players Gone Wild’). Yet, he does a lot of his talking on the pitch. The Brecon born forward was a key player during Wales’ 2008 Six Nations Grand Slam success, as well as earning a place on the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa the following year. However, after losing form for club and country, Powell moved from the Cardiff Blues to London Wasps, before leaving a season later for Sale. With form not improving, Powell moved over to Wigan Warriors in the English Super League. His stint in rugby league only lasted 5 games however, and he is now back playing in Wales for union side, Newport-Gwent Dragons.
Along with Sonny Bill Williams, Folau is one of the most high profile convert of recent times. Not content with moving directly from league to union, Folau had a spell playing Australian Rules Football before joining NSW Waratahs. Two tries and one assist in his first match was a sign of things to come from the giant full back, as he has gone on to score 20 tries in 28 matches in his first two seasons of Super Rugby. An international call up was never going to take long, and sure enough, Folau was added to the Wallabies squad for the 2013 British & Irish Lions tour of Australia. A scintillating man-of-the-match display marked Folau's arrival on rugby's grand stage with two first half tries against the Lions, and he has now gone on to touch down 15 times in just 23 tests for the Wallabies. A phenomenal success.
A Rugby World Cup winner in 2003 including a try in the final, 51 appearances for England in Union, 5 caps for the British & Irish Lions, 12 League caps for Great Britain and 7 for England. With a record like that, there isn't much to say about Jason "Billy Whizz" Robinson that hasn't already been said. Playing League with Wigan from 1992-2000, Robinson made the change to Union with Sale Sharks, where he would stay until retiring from the game in 2007. The winger initially retired from international rugby in 2005, but was convinced to return to the England setup by then-head coach Brian Ashton in 2007. Two tries in his first game back against Scotland proved that it was the correct decision! Robinson would go on to play in another RWC final, this time losing 15-6 to South Africa, before retiring for the final time.
Although Chambers didn’t cross in to rugby union, this is a story we couldn’t miss out. The successful British sprinter announced in 2008 that he wanted to try his hand at rugby league, and signed with the Castleford Tigers on a trial contract. The stint was short lived, as Chambers played one game for the reserves, before being told that they would not be extending his stay.
It is evident that most players who cross from league into union are far more successful than those that trade vice-versa. Have we missed anyone out who you feel deserves a mention? Please let us know. In the meantime, enjoy Rugby HQ's Top 5 Code Hoppers.