A lot of Rugby League players have tried their hand in Rugby Union recently, some with much more effect than others. The reality is that League has a monopoly of world class backs who could shine in Rugby, especially in Australia.
It's the forwards where league players are going to struggle. Though some have made an impact like Elsome and Brad Thorn, but it takes too long to train a league forward the skills required to play the 15 man game, unless they have a rugby background.
The problem is that kids in Australia grow up wanting to be League or AFL players and that is where most of the talent ends up. At grass roots level, rugby in Australia is tiny, and although steps have been made lately, there is still much to be done.
When you look at the wealth of big men playing AFL and all the skills and speed they have for men their size, it is obvious the level of impact these men could have in the second row and line-outs of rugby. Not to mention their kicking skills as well. Some of these young men need to be identified and trained in rugby early.
Two league players that i believe would have a huge impact on rugby union is Greg Inglis and Cameron smith. Cameron Smith is the current Australian captain and plays Hooker in league. However in rugby union he would make an amazing scrum half. He has all the skills required for half, and then some. He is a great defender, he can kick and pass as good as anyone, he plays dummy half in league and is used to sniping around the ruck. He is one player the ARU should be targeting.
Greg Inglis also would be outstanding. Far and away the best outside back in either game. His ability could revolutionise the game. The ARU made a huge mistake by not approaching him last month when he was talking of the possibility of playing rugby. Now he has signed again with league robbing the rest of the world from truly appreciating his ability.
Of all the league players to switch codes i think Jason Robinson has been the most successful. Ryan Cross shows all the skills but has a rugby background. Rogers was ok but was picked above Latham at 15 in the 2003 world cup, a decision which ultimately cost Australia the World cup. Tiquri has been good, but took a while to find his feet.
We are often putting our faith in the wrong league converts. Getting the right player is the key. Never replace a great of rugby with a gamble from league like the Latham-Rogers affair. Another example is Joe Roff, no league winger would of replaced him in his day because he was the best at that time. Identify what is needed and take steps to get the right player.
Do more work in the grass roots of the game and identify those playing two codes at school and help them to ultimately be rugby players.
Many of those who have played both codes, like I have, preferred rugby union, but no real effort was made to keep us in the game. Now that rugby has the money, that should be changing. At the very least the ARU should be leading the way in the development of the game at home. In countries like New Zealand and South Africa, rugby has no competitors but in Australia it comes a distant fifth in our winter sports.
If Australia could pick from all codes, i am sure they would be almost unbeatable, so maybe its a good thing for rugby that at this stage they don't.
I want to see Australia become the true power in rugby that they once were. The neglected state of the game in Oz now is a little disappointing, although finally they do have another team that have the potential to build towards another world cup win. If the ARU was smarter, that world cup would almost be a certainty. Getting Robbie Deans was a great step. The grass roots and the right players to target should be the next.
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