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Opinion

The ten best union to league converts

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Roar Guru
15th April, 2020
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Rugby league was born out of the struggles of the working man to get compensation if he were injured and not able to attend work.

While a Huddersfield hotel in the north of England hosted meetings that would see the birth of the new code, it was in Sydney in 1908 that an organised rugby league competition started.

But the stumbling block was that it needed rugby union players to pull on the boots to fill the teams that played in that first season. Cricket plays a part in this tale as Monty Noble and Victor Trumper were instrumental in pulling the whole show together and persuading the superstar Dally Messenger (and his mother) to switch codes.

With this, the age of the dual international was born. While this is not a definitive list, it highlights ten outstanding players to represent at international level.

Dally Messenger was the superstar of the age much like Don Bradman but only in Sydney. Such is the esteem he is held in that the NRL names its major award after him. Rugby league needed a marquee and in Messenger they got that and more. His name is revered in league more than union because he jumped ship. He also played for New Zealand so he really was a switch-hitter in days when boundaries meant little.

Dally Messenger

(Image: Public domain)

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Ray Price was a Wallaby who left the game a Parramatta legend with a statue outside of Bankwest Stadium. Mr Perpetual Motion was as tough as they come and that trait is more valued than natural skill or ability. He got the job done and was not pretty doing it.

Michael O’Connor was class personified. An electrifying runner with the hands of a surgeon, he left union to join St George then Manly. He lit up State of Origin for NSW and starred on the 1986 Kangaroo tour.

While Ricky Stuart was not a union superstar he became a bigger name in league, winning premierships as a player and coach. While not a one-club stalwart, he is back at his natural home in Canberra and takes his rightful place as a legend of the Raiders club.

Jonathan Davies is quite simply the greatest Welsh rugby union player to play the game. And as such his split to rugby league shook the sport in the north of England. He switched codes for the same reason they did in the early days of the split: he needed the moolah. Union was still an amateur sport and he needed to make a living. After joining Widnes he played in Australia with Canterbury then the Cowboys in a career that didn’t live up to the billing. When he retired he took to the rugby league commentary box with zeal.

Rex Mossop, or the Moose as he is still known to some, was a hard-as-flint union forward who had a distinguished career as a Wallaby before joining his beloved Manly Sea Eagles. Perhaps known for his colourful commentary more than his long past playing days, Mossop had a lovely turn of phrase, which he employed in life away from the camera.

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Arthur Summons was a canny halfback who switched from union to league and is best remembered as the shorter half of the rugby league grand final winners’ trophy. He played his first union Test in 1958 against the Welsh in Cardiff and his first league Test in 1961 against New Zealand in Auckland.

Former rugby league players Norm Provan (left) and Arthur Summons. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

Ray French is the Ray Warren of British rugby league. He was a long-time commentator for the BBC but this gangly forward played both for Wales in union and Great Britain in league.

Trevor Allan was such a good player in the late ’40s and early ’50s that he now has a statue outside of Sydney Football Stadium. Or at least he did until they pulled the ground down and put the brass work into storage.

Speaking of brass, John Brass is a Roosters legend in Sydney and also played for the Randwick rugby union club. It was from here that he represented Australia for the first time in 1966 and then for the Kangaroos in 1970.

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