NRL converts: Australia looking to boost chances of home RWC success

NRL converts: Australia looking to boost chances of home RWC success
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Australia has been awarded the 2027 men’s Rugby World Cup and the women’s tournament two years later. This has kickstarted talk about whether Rugby Australia will look to a few NRL converts to boost their chances?

In the past, NRL converts have had mixed success. For every Sonny Bill Williams, there is a Sam Burgess. When you think of Brad Thorn, do you remember Karmichael Hunt? Some are successful, others struggle to transition from one code to another. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is currently doing this, and the Blues midfielder is an example the RA executives are watching closely.

What is agreed though, is that all potential converts carry wonderful football skills. The skills that league players can bring to union though means that it is likely some players can easily convert, and quite likely are targets now with the impending RWC reward as a ‘carrot’ to entice their signatures over the next two or three seasons.

Just which players could make the transition successfully? and where could they play? Here, Last Word on Rugby looks at the players Rugby Australia is most likely to chase.

Possible NRL convert – Angus Crichton

The Sydney Roosters edge forward has reportedly agreed on a handshake deal with his current club for another two years. However, it appears salary-cap issues mean this has not been successfully rubber-stamped by the NRL. Brandon Smith arrives next year to join the litany of other star names on the Roosters payroll. This means the State of Origin representative may be forced to look elsewhere.

Plenty of other clubs will be interested in the second rower, with the Tigers already rumoured to be in pursuit. If Rugby Australia came knocking with a similar pay package to what he now receives though Crichton could very much be tempted back into the code in which he spent much of his youth. Before he signed for the Rabbitohs in 2015, Crichton represented the Australian schoolboys in 2013 and 2014 in union. A versatile player who could slot into the centres or back row, he left union after being told he would not be playing Super Rugby until he was 23.

This history makes Crichton one of the more likely code switchers as he would be faster to adapt to union. He would likely go straight back into the centres where he would compete with Samu Kerevi for a spot in the team. A wonderfully balanced player who is exceptional both sides of the ball, Crichton would return to the sport of his youth a far more rounded player who would be an asset to Australia’s World Cup dreams.

James Tedesco

A clubmate of Crichton and the captain of the Roosters and the New South Wales Blues, is James Tedesco. He would be a wonderful acquisition if he could adjust to the needs of union. He is possibly one of the hardest players to drag away from rugby league due to his standing within the game and the upcoming World Cup for rugby league will be his main international goal right now. As one of the favourites for captain of Australia, the team who are themselves favourites for the title, poaching ‘Teddy’ may be too difficult until the tournament has concluded.

This means that he would have less time to adapt to the demands of the sport. As we saw with Sam Burgess in 2015, players cannot simply be thrown in at the deep end, no matter how good they were in another sport. So it could prove a significant risk bringing him across. Seeing an Australia game against New Zealand though where Tedesco faced off against the man he effectively replaced at the Rooster in Roger Tuivasa-Sheck would be a hugely exciting affair. Tuivasa-Sheck has already made the switch and looks to one one of few successful NRL converts to union. The former Dally-M player of the year is currently adjusting to life as an inside centre at the Blues.

Tedesco would compete for the fullback jersey as that is the position he has spent his league career playing. His work under the high ball is exemplary as are his counter-attacking instinct and defensive capabilities. An area he would need to work on though is his kicking game. As fullbacks in league are rarely called upon to utilise the boot, the kicking game in union will be a foreign concept to Tedesco.

Cameron Murray

Murray is the captain of the Roosters’ arch-rivals the South Sydney Rabbitohs. He plays lock and second-row for the club as well as for New South Wales and Australia. He, like Crichton, would probably find a home in the centres in the XV man sport. Murray possesses an unbelievable work rate and has been one of the form players in the NRL this year even though his side has struggled to live up to last year’s performances after the departure of Adam Reynolds. Defensively he dominates collisions and will rack up more tackles than almost anyone else on the field.

On attack, he has excellent acceleration and the ability to distribute as well as carry direct makes him a more rounded option than many hard running centres.

Despite lacking the bulk of a traditional gainline centre, Murray always finds himself making yards for the Rabbitohs’ attack. The reduced space in union may mean it takes Murray a while to change his style, but he is another who has experience in both codes.

One issue Murray may encounter in union is the chock tackle. In league, coaches encourage players to try and stay on their feet in order to get a quick play the ball. This could become a problem in union though as the choke tackle will result in the ball being turned over. This will mean a change in running style to a lower position so they can fight to get to ground. An advantage of this upright style though is the offloading game we often see in league. Sonny Bill Williams is a perfect example of a player who brought that over from league with such great success as it creates problems that defences are simply unable to deal with.

Tom Trbojevic

Tom ‘Turbo’ Trbojevic is the reigning Dally-M player of the year after an unbelievable season in 2021. His running game was undefendable at times as he helped Manly to the preliminary finals and he claimed the Wally Lewis Medal as he helped New South Wales to a victorious State of Origin Series.

Not only can he beat defenders for fun but he has the rugby intelligence that led to 28 tries and a further 28 assists for the fullback. Additionally, at 6’5” he has an extremely strong ariel game. In terms of position in union, Trbojevic is possibly one of the hardest to call. He has played at fullback, centre and wing so could end up in any one of these positions in the 15-man code. The defensive difficulties of playing outside centre, especially for someone who is new to the sport, mean this is unlikely to become his home but he could add serious attacking talent to Australia’s back three.

While space is harder to find in union, if Australia can manage to get Trbojevic in broken field situations or one-on-one with a defender he will be nearly unstoppable. As potential NRL converts go, there are few with the x-factor of Trbojevic.

Kayln Ponga

Ponga plays fullback for the Newcastle Knights and can play five-eighth as well. He has regularly been linked with a cross-code move due to the attacking capabilities that make him the kind of player who can create those special moments. However, after speculation that he would join the expansion side The Dolphins, he signed a five-year extension with the Knights. This means that if Rugby Australia wants him with enough time to settle into their systems, they are going to have to pay handsomely for the marquee player.

Concluding remarks – possible NRL converts

It is unlikely that Rugby Australia will bring many players over from rugby league. Furthermore, many of those pursued will have no interest in a change of sport. But these players have skill sets that are hard to find in rugby union. Therefore one or two NRL converts may make Australia a more dangerous proposition in 2027, especially on home soil.

Who do you think could make the code switch and perhaps more importantly, will they be successful?

 

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