Cracking the other code

On the back of Sam Tomkins’ much publicised rugby union debut for the Barbarians last week, I look at who has blazed a trail for him by converting most successfully from rugby league.

Jason Robinson collecting his OBE

Jason Robinson collecting his OBE

  1. Jason Robinson

Nicknamed ‘Billy the Whizz’, Robinson had a stellar career in rugby league, making over 300 appearances for Wigan and representing Great Britain. Having converted to union, it did not take him long to impress enough for Sale Sharks to make himself an England regular. His try in the 2003 World Cup final was one of 28 for his country and two tries for the Lions in 2005 added to his reputation as a true great in both codes.

 

Brad Thorn celebrates winning the World Cup with New Zealand

Brad Thorn celebrates winning the World Cup with New Zealand

  1. Brad Thorn

The recent rugby union World Cup winner previously had a long and illustrious career in rugby league, playing forAustralia and for Queensland in the State of Origin series. Having been born in New Zealand though, he represented the All Blacks on 59 occasions following his switch to union, culminating in the World Cup win on home soil on 23 October.

 

Lote Tuqiri poses in a Wallabies shirt in front of the Australia flag

Lote Tuqiri poses in a Wallabies shirt in front of the Australia flag

  1. Lote Tuqiri

Another Queensland and Australia representative in rugby league, Tuqiri was lured to the other code by the Australian Rugby Union in 2003, just in time for the World Cup. It didn’t take him long to become a big hit with the Wallabies as he scored in the final defeat to England and went on to win 67 caps and score 30 tries.

 

Mat Rogers breaks through a tackle for Australia

Mat Rogers breaks through a tackle for Australia

  1. Mat Rogers

Rogers played alongside Tuqiri in the 2003 World Cup final, having put an impressive representative career for Queensland and Australia in rugby league behind him. Playing in various positions across the backline, he was a key figure for the Wallabies for a number of years and earned 45 caps before returning to rugby league in 2007.

 

Chris Ashton performing his trademark swallow dive for England

Chris Ashton performing his trademark swallow dive for England

  1. Chris Ashton

Ashton scored three tries in four games for the England rugby league team and was emerging as a star of the future for Wigan when he made the switch to rugby union with Northampton at just 20 years of age. In 102 matches for the Saints he has scored a phenomenal 89 tries, helped to a large extent by a particularly free-scoring first season in National League One. He has been equally prolific with England though, scoring 15 tries in 18 games, and could become the greatest ever convert if he continues in the same vain.

 

Wendell Sailor applauds fans following one of his 37 appearances for the Wallabies

Wendell Sailor applauds fans following one of his 37 appearances for the Wallabies

  1. Wendell Sailor

‘Big Dell’ was pilloried at times during his spell in rugby union for a lack of skill and finesse. He played for his country on 37 occasions though, including the World Cup final, and scored 13 tries. He was supposed to be the Wallabies’ Jonah Lomu after starring for Australia in rugby league and whilst he may not have scaled such heights, he did have a very successful career in both codes.

 

Iestyn Harris struggles to contain fellow rugby league convert Jason Robinson in the 2003 World Cup

Iestyn Harris struggles to contain fellow rugby league convert Jason Robinson in the 2003 World Cup

  1. Iestyn Harris

Whilst he only spent three years in rugby union, he racked up 25 caps for Wales. Although he did not turn out to be the saviour of Welsh rugby following his big money move, he played plenty of games for Cardiff and scored over 100 points for his country. In rugby league, he was always a success. A Warrington and Leeds legend before switching codes, he returned to league in 2004 with Bradford Bulls and added to his Great Britain caps.

 

Sonny Bill Williams is one of the latest stars to switch codes

Sonny Bill Williams is one of the latest stars to switch codes

  1. Sonny Bill Williams

In terms of pure numbers, it is questionable how big a success Sonny Bill Williams has been so far in rugby union. However, his physical prowess and slight of hand are the equal of any player in either code. With a burgeoning reputation in rugby league for Canterbury Bulldogs and New Zealand, his star has only grown since his switch to union in 2008. Playing for the All Blacks since 2010, he has amassed 14 caps so far but has failed to nail down a permanent starting berth. New Zealand have been desperate to find a position for one of the most gifted players in world rugby though and more caps and success are sure to follow if he chooses to remain in union and with the All Blacks.

 

Berrick Barnes in action for the Wallabies

Berrick Barnes in action for the Wallabies

  1. Berrick Barnes

Some may not be aware of his roots in rugby league given he made just nine appearances for the Brisbane Broncos. Having made the decision to switch to union early, he has made huge strides in the sport. Despite struggling with several injuries and illnesses, he has gained 36 caps already at the age of 25 and is likely to add plenty more over the next few years if he can remain fit and healthy.

 

Shontayne Hape scoring for England

Shontayne Hape scoring for England

  1. Shontayne Hape

At 30 years of age and with the stigma of England’s disastrous World Cup campaign and his centre partnership with Mike Tindall forever attached to him, he may not make too many more appearances for his country. However, he was once a physically intimidating and free-scoring figure in rugby league with the Bradford Bulls and New Zealand. Since his switch to union, there has been much debate about his ability and his role but he has played 13 times for England and remains an important part of the London Irish side.

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About timgroves
Freelance sports journalist working @PlanetRugby. Published in @guardian_sport @TelegraphSport @FourFourTwo @NCGmagazine @RugbyTimes and @leagueexpress, musing on everything in the world of sport

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