Does Union need League converts?

Rugby League Superstar Sam Burgess’ decision to cross codes last week by joining Bath sees another League star cross over to the fifteen man game. Known by the nickname ‘Slammin Sam’, the ex-Bradford forward is one of League’s hottest properties. An ever-present in England’s World Cup campaign last year, the 25 year-old was one of the stand-out performers in a campaign that promised so much but which was ended in the most cruel of fashions.

Since his 2009 move to the Sydney Rabbitohs, the 6ft 5in, 18st powerhouse has helped the Sydney franchise to a host of silverware. Bath, riding high in the Premiership have shelled out £270,000 for the Yorkshireman, who they have earmarked as a centre.

Burgess, who has signed a 3 year contract with the West Country outfit, will join his new team in October after the end of the NRL season and has targeted a spot in England’s 2015 World Cup squad. With the 2015 Six Nations kicking off in February, Burgess would only have 3 months to learn the game and 11 months to get himself into the frame for Rugby’s showpiece tournament which kicks off in September of next year-a target which many people feel will be beyond his reach.

Others fear that he could become another cross-code flop a la Iestyn Harris, Henry Paul, Barry Mather, Shonatayne Hape et al, while others believe that he could follow Jason Robinson, Sonny Bill Williams, Israel Folau and Brad Thorne in excelling in the 15 man game.

But  the question that not many people are asking is this- ‘Does Union need Burgess and co?’. Doesn’t the 15 man game have enough talent without having to bring in League stars? Let’s look at England’s national team as a case in point-they already have 4 good centres:Billy Twelvetrees, newcomer Luther Burrell, Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt as well as the likes of Henry Trinder, ex-league star Kyle Eastmond and Anthony Allen.

These guys grew up playing the game and know it inside-out-with only Tuilagi playing both codes. Isn’t it better for English Rugby to invest its time and money into developing talented youngsters from the grassroots level up? The red rose have enough talent coming through-a point illustrated by their U20’s Junior World Cup triumph in France last year and the inclusion of young talent in Stuart Lancaster’s current team: Jack Nowell, Johnnie May and Luther Burrell.

Is it worth the time, energy and money to invest in developing players albeit very talented ones who have never played the game before? Who literally have to start from scratch. Those in the ‘no’ camp will cite the examples of Iestyn Harris and co that it isn’t worth it while those in the ‘Yes’ camp will cite the examples of Robinson and co to say that it is worth the investment.

Personally I think it is but only with some caveats. Firstly, Union should only invest in the best of the best. Players such as Sam Burgess who genuinely has the whole package:power, vision, good hands, and who runs good angles. He boasts all the qualities of a Sonny Bill Williams and look at how he did!

Secondly age limits should be put on signings form League. In my book no players over 26 should be signed, thus ensuring that Union only get League players who are really hungry and want to succeed rather than those who are just after a big pay packet.

Thirdly signings from League should not be rushed into their nation’s national set-up. New signings should be allowed time to bed into the game: gradually being introduced into their club teams via the bench, and also  loaned out to championship clubs and even lower league sides for a time if need be, in order to get vital experience under the belts.

Former St.Helens star Kyle Eastmond is an example of this. Eastmond, who has put in a number of impressive performances this season after having come through injury and personal problems, is in with a genuine shout of making England’s 2015 World Cup squad.

Union has been found guilty too many times of rushing marquee signings into their national squad before they have have had enough time to get to grips with the game. Iestyn Harris the former Bradford Bulls and Cardiff Blues star is the biggest example of this after making his Welsh debut in 2001 after having only played 200 minutes in Union. After a poor debut at fly-half for Wales he was subsequently moved to inside-centre but returned to league in 2004 after only 3 years in Union.

If these caveats are met League players should be welcomed with open arms into the Union fold. Their conditioning, power and the fact that they bring a different perspective into the game can definitely add something to the 15 man code.


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