Former rugby league players who may star in rugby union’s World Cup

There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a top rugby league player leave for the international glamour of rugby union. 

With the wider acclaim, bigger audiences and fatter pay checks, rugby union’s World Cup (or Rugby World Cup as they’ve coined) is increasingly attractive for those interested in a switch of codes, and the upcoming tournament could see two of the biggest names from the last Rugby League World Cup this time representing their country in the 15-man code. 

With less than three months to go until the curtain raiser for the 2015 Rugby World Cup at Twickenham, preparations have begun across the sixteen teams who have high aspirations of going all the way and lifting the prestigious trophy. 

Stuart Lancaster will hope that his side can triumph as tournament hosts and restore pride in the England rugby union team, but with the likes of New Zealand and South Africa rated as strong favourites with Coral, it may require a herculean effort to overcome such international powerhouses. 

The World Cup will be too soon for Josh Jones, who has recently announced that he is leaving St. Helens to join Exeter Chiefs RU, to stake a claim for a place in Lancaster’s squad, but there are others who have proven themselves in both codes of the sport.

Sam Burgess 

Former Bradford Bulls star Sam Burgess may be set to complete a meteoric rise in rugby union by being selected for England’s squad to participate in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The 26-year-old has only been playing rugby union since late November when he made the decision to switch codes and join Bath from South Sydney Rabbitohs, where he enjoyed considerable success. Burgess has proven to be capable of playing either as centre or a flanker, and although his versatility may be useful for England and Lancaster, it is not a foregone conclusion that he will be part of the 31-man squad for the World Cup.

However, his inclusion in the 50-man training camp at Pennyhill Park not only suggests that he is in Lancaster’s thoughts, but may also cap a wonderful season for Burgess if he features against Figi.

Kyle Eastmond

The manner in which his Super League career at St. Helens ended may have been acrimonious, but Kyle Eastmond’s switch to play rugby union with Bath has proved to be the making of the man.

Eastmond has not looked back since switching codes in 2011, developing into one of the best centres in England and being instrumental in Bath’s resurgence as a dominant force in the Aviva Premiership.

He is certain to play an instrumental role in Lancaster’s team throughout the Rugby World Cup, and may line up alongside team-mate Burgess to lead England to glory. 

Sonny Bill Williams

Sonny Bill Williams is arguably one of the highest profile dual-code rugby internationals as only the second person in history to represent his country in both codes.

It is testament to his superb talent and abilities as a rugby player that has enabled him to be successful at rugby league and rugby union; the fact that he has switched back to the latter in order to represent New Zealand at the World Cup illustrates just how good he is.

Williams has also won all six of his professional heavyweight boxing bouts between 2009 and 2013, and although he has since put rugby at the forefront of his mind, it is his ability to excel in a number of fields that makes Williams a good candidate to represent the All Blacks this September and beyond.

Those headline three players aren’t the only former league stars with a chance of taking part in the tournament.

Former St Helens and Great Britain forward Maurie Fa’asavalu has been named in Samoa’s initial training squad, at the tender of age of 35, while ex-Wiganer Chris Ashton is already a well established international name in the 15-man code.

A man who is less established, but has been playing consistently for a number of years in the Premiership with Northampton, is fly half Stephen Myler, who played in Super League for both Widnes and Salford before switching codes.


Are there any rugby union players you would like to see switch codes and play in the 2017 World Cup? Let us know in the comments below.

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