League to Union: Rugby’s Top Converts

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This week Kevin Sinfield announced he was ending his tenure with Leeds Rhinos, to cross codes to join Rugby Union side Yorkshire Carnegie. Although not as high profile a move as recent convert Sam Burgess, Sinfield move is another one of many players who have moved across the codes since Union went professional in 1995 with varying degrees of success. Here are some of the most successful Rugby League to Rugby Union converts.

League to Union: Rugby’s Top Converts

Sonny Bill Williams

Sonny Bill Williams is a three sport athlete as in addition to his success in both League and Union, he has won the New Zealand Professional Boxing Association Heavyweight & WBA International Heavyweight championships. Posting a 7-0 undefeated record Williams only lost his championships when he did not fight due to his rugby commitments. Williams has moved back and forth between League and Union appearing in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup Final losing to Australia. Williams has been very successful during his time in the 15 a side code, winning Super Rugby with the Chiefs and the 2011 World Cup with New Zealand.

Jason Robinson

The second World Cup winner on this list (but not the last), Jason Robinson was a part of the dominant Wigan side of the early and mid-1990’s winning five league titles and two challenge cups, he was also part of the England side that lost to Australia in the 1995 Rugby League World Cup final. After switching codes Robinson continued to achieve success, winning the Premiership with Sale Sharks, becoming the first player to win both Super League and Premiership titles. Robinson achieved success on the international stage representing both England and the British Lions. Called up for the Lions tours of Australia and New Zealand in 2001 and 2005 respectively, Robinson scored twice in Australia. Robinson was capped 51 times for England helping them to the 2003 and 2007 Rugby World Cup Finals, scoring England’s only try in the 2003 victory.

Brad Thorn

The third World Cup winner on this list Thorn is unique among these players, as he is the only player who has seen success as a forward. After success in League for Brisbane Broncos and representing Queensland, in the State of Origin series, and Australia, Thorn switched codes in 2001. Representing his country of birth New Zealand at the 2003 World Cup, his initial spell in Union lasted 3 years. After a successful two year spell back in league Thorn returned to Union in 2008. Winning the 2008 Super Rugby title with the Crusaders, the 2012 Heineken Cup with Leinster, Thorn achieved World Cup success with New Zealand in 2011.

Shaun Edwards & Andy Farrell

Not all successful converts have made their impacts on the field. Shaun Edwards and Andy Farrell were both great Rugby League players, but have made their impact on the 15 a side game through coaching. Edwards moved into coaching Union with Wasps after retiring from playing Rugby League in 2000. Edwards has also been a successful international coach assisting Warren Gatland with Wales, winning two Six Nations grand slams in 2008 and 2011 with a further championship in 2013. Farrell has also seen success as a coach in Union. After a cross code playing switch, Farrell never quite hit the heights of his League career. After retiring from playing Farrell moved into coaching with Saracens. Farrell has been an assistant coach with England since 2011 and was a coach for the British Lions on their successful tour of South Africa in 2013.

Lote Tuqiri

Lote Tuqiri crossed codes in 2002, after achieving success with Brisbane Broncos, which led to appearances for Queensland and Australia. Joining New South Wales Waratahs, Tuqiri was called up to the Australia side. Tuqiri represented Australia in both the 2003 and 2007 World Cups as well as being included in the 2006 Commonwealth Games Sevens squad. Returning to League in 2010 he became the first player to be selected for Australia during his second spell in league, having crossed codes to Union and appearing for the national side during his initial League spell.

Chris Ashton

Chris Ashton moved to Rugby Union from Wigan in 2007, signing with Northampton Saints. Having been a prolific try scorer in the 13 man code, Ashton continued this trait in Union. His clinic finishing earned him a call up to the England side where he has continued his scoring feats amassing 19 tries in 39 appearances. Ashton was member of England’s 2011 World Cup squad. Currently he has fallen out of favour with England, however Ashton has continued to score for current club Saracens, with 12 in all competitions to date this season.

Israel Folau

Israel Folau is the second three sport athlete on this list, having competed in Aussie Rules Football as well as Union and League. Playing for Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos, Folau earned call ups to the Queensland and Australia squads, appearing for Australia at the 2008 World Cup. In 2012 Folau moved to Aussie Rules for a single year playing for Greater Western Sydney, before moving to Rugby Union in 2013. Signing for New South Wales Waratahs, Folau has gone on to represent Australia, including being selected against the British Lions in 2013.

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