Code Defectors 101: Successes and Failures

Given how similar Union and League are, it is no surprise to see that there has been a lot of crossing between the two codes in the world of rugby. Some players have been a lot more successful than others after doing so, and enjoying high-profile careers, while others have slipped under the radar.

The cross-code superstar

In terms of cross-code players, it’s impossible not to mention Sonny Bill Williams, who got his 50th cap for New Zealand last November. The All Blacks star has played World Cup finals in both codes, winning the union version twice in 2011 and 2015. He has also won domestic competitions in both codes with makes him one of, if not the number one, cross-code star – and famed for his ‘big hits’:

The successful coaches

One of the more recent examples that probably went ‘under the radar’ to most union fans was that of Shaun Wane moving to be the High Performance Coach for Scotland, working in the background and learning the game. During his reign, the former Wigan coach won the Super League three times and will be hoping to carve a route for himself in the other code.

One coach who has proven to be a success after switching codes is Andy Farrell. He too had a very successful career at Wigan, and took that success into a stint with Saracens before entering the coaching system. In time, he became England’s defence coach, and the residual effects of his tenure have arguably resulted in England being favourites to win this year’s six nations rugby tournament. He currently does the same job with Ireland, but was unable to restrain his own son, who scored a decisive penalty for England in the 2019 tournament opener.

Switching wings isn’t always easy

Wingers often make the switch due to the similarities between the two roles in both sports, but they are most vulnerable to being condemned as unsuccessful defectors. Josh Charnley tried to make it at Sale Sharks and couldn’t manage it, and Denny Solomona is trying at Sale too – and doing so with more success – though he has received a number of bans.

Here he is in action, doing what he does best:

Recently “poised” to start in England’s Six Nations opener, young upstart Solomona missed out on England’s Six Nations squad, but one cross-code winger who didn’t was Chris Ashton. Ashton is another who has found his way to Sale after also playing for Northampton, Saracens and Toulon. He’s got his chance once again in the England team and will be hoping he can stay there this time.

Who will be the future Sonny Bill?

The potential riches of the rugby union game is enough to lure a lot of rugby league stars over to the sport, but not all of them have been able to make it. Ultimately, the slower and more tactical nature of union makes it a much different game, and for every Sonny Bill Williams there is a Josh Charley. There will be many more converts in the future, and with the Oceanic countries enjoying a monopoly on international tournaments pertinent to both codes, Australia and New Zealand are the countries sure to provide the majority of them.

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