Code-swappers: Seven wingers who moved from rugby league to union
By Tom Mordey | Twitter: @TomMordey |
Last Updated: 15/12/16 2:03pm
Denny Solomona's cross-code switch from Castleford Tigers to Sale Sharks has finally been confirmed, ruffling quite a few feathers in the rugby league world on the way.
The loss of some of league's biggest talents has been a concern for the 13-man game ever since their union counterparts turned professional in 1995.
So how will Solomona, who scored a record-breaking 42 tries in Castleford colours last season, get on in union? Sam Burgess tried and failed, Andy Farrell is making more of an impression as a coach than he did as a player, while Jason Robinson tasted World Cup glory with England in 2003.
With Robinson's exploits in mind, we look at his record and six other wingers who made the switch from league to union to try and determine Solomona's fate.
The benchmark for any league player crossing the great divide. Robinson won 51 caps for England in his adopted code, crossing for 28 tries to put him fifth on the list of the nation's all-time try-scorers.
'Billy Whizz' took his memorising sidestep and searing pace into union in 2000 and made an instant impact. He broke into Sir Clive Woodward's England side for the Six Nations, making his debut against Italy in February 2001, while he was also part of the British and Irish Lions' tour of Australia that year, scoring a seemingly impossible try in the first Test.
Robinson would help England win the Grand Slam in 2003, the Premiership with Sale in 2006 and also captained the national team. He would also go on a second Lions tour in 2005 to New Zealand. But his defining moment came on a November night in Sydney in 2003, Robinson diving over in the left corner for England's only try in their greatest triumph. A genius in both codes.
If Robinson set the benchmark for Super League wingers trying their hand in rugby union, then Ashton has made the best fist so far in trying to emulate him.
The 29-year-old currently sits four places behind Robinson in ninth on England's all-time scorers list with 19 tries from 39 caps. But Ashton's unlikely to add to that number, having agreed a move to Toulon from Saracens at the end of the season.
Ashton has not played for England since 2014 with a 10-week ban for eye gouging ruling him out of this year's Six Nations after head coach Eddie Jones had initially included him in his first squad. But you can't fault Ashton's achievements in union. A former Premiership Player of the Year, he has won two domestic titles and not to mention last year's Champions Cup with Saracens.
And who could forget the 'Ash Splash' celebration, especially after he finished that stunning length of the pitch try against Australia at Twickenham in 2010. He can be proud of his union achievements.
One of Super League's deadliest wingers of all-time, many expected the 'Volcano' to continue his try-scoring exploits in union when he left Bradford for Gloucester in 2007.
It all started so well too, Vainikolo crossing for five tries on his debut for the Cherry and Whites against Leeds Carnegie. His scoring feats that season saw him finish joint-fourth in the Premiership's try charts and it earned him a call-up to the England side for the 2008 Six Nations, despite being a New Zealand rugby league international.
Although he played every game that spring, Vainikolo was dropped for England's summer tour to New Zealand and never played for his adopted nation again. After 20 tries in 53 games for Gloucester, the Volcano rumbled on to France and joined La Rochelle in 2012. A mixed bag.
Verdict: Jury's out
Sky Sports' very own cross-code convert decided to try his hand at union having proven his quality in the NRL with the Newcastle Knights. The former Hull FC and Wigan winger had originally joined the Gold Coast Titans in 2007, before deciding to cut short his stay in Australia to play union, a move he'd been linked with four years earlier.
Carney signed for Munster, scoring on his debut against Ulster and again against the Ospreys a week later. He was fast-tracked into the Ireland side, scoring again on his debut in a narrow defeat to Argentina in Santa Fe.
That helped him make Eddie O'Sullivan's World Cup squad in 2007, though he didn't feature in what was a disastrous tournament for Ireland. He did play in the Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2009, however, scoring a try in Ireland's win over Australia.
After two years in union, Carney, aged 32, switched back to league for a final hurrah with Warrington before retiring to become a pundit.
Verdict: Jury's out
Smith made a brilliant start as a youngster in rugby league, featuring on the wing, at full-back and at centre for the Leeds Rhinos as they won three Grand Finals in a row in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Smith won the Harry Sunderland trophy for his man-of-the-match performance in the 2008 showpiece and scored twice at Old Trafford a year later.
That earned him a move to Wasps, and as an England rugby league international, he was earmarked as a future union star too. But things didn't go to plan. Smith played just once for Wasps before moving back to Leeds, five months after he'd left.
Not to be deterred by his first union experience, Smith signed for Newcastle in 2014. That move didn't go much better, playing just five times before he returned once again to league to join Wakefield. One to forget in the cross-code wingers.
Verdict: Miss (twice)
The younger brother of Leon Pryce, Karl was a monster of an outside back who burst onto the scene with Bradford in 2003, scoring a hatful of tries in the process.
He won the World Club Challenge with the Bulls in 2006, despite playing out of position at stand-off. 17 tries in 21 games followed in that year's Super League campaign and that saw him join Gloucester at the end of the season.
Pryce broke a bone in his foot on his Premiership debut for the Cherry and Whites against Northampton and that pretty much curtailed his union adventure. The winger moved back to Super League to join Wigan in 2008 where he continued to struggle with injury problems throughout the rest of his career.
We finish with one to watch. Solomona has rugby league company at Sale, and indeed competition for places!
Charnley left Wigan at the end of this season, having signed off with a Grand Final win, his third winners' ring with the Warriors.
He made his union debut a month ago in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in a 17-13 win over Wasps. Sale's form has dipped dramatically of late but director of rugby Steve Diamond has been impressed with Charnley's start to life in the 15-man code.
"I threw Josh in and he's pretty much our most consistent player at the minute," said Diamond.
Verdict: Watch this space