“Leaguies know nothing about playing Union. Never have, never will.”
I was astounded to read the above post on an article following the Springbok’s mauling of the Wallabies.
It was seemingly in response to a suggestion by another Roarer that the Kangaroos may have done better in Pretoria had they donned the famous gold jerseys.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m sick of the pettiness.
Yes, we’ve heard it all before. We know that some of the best athletes in the country are playing Rugby League and AFL. We know that few make the transition to Rugby Union successfully. We also know that there isn’t a ‘Leaguie’ or ruck rover who is going to solve our scrummaging problems.
But to finish the conversation there is absurd, given the state the Wallabies find themselves in, and ignorant of history in equal measures.
Are the Wallabies really in a position to ignore the fact that our best fly-half is 35 years old and hasn’t played in a top level provincial rugby competition since 2019? That our first choice fullback managed just five games for Manly?
That seemingly the next best option we have at 12 after an aging Samu Kerevi is Reece Hodge?
No, Australia are not in that position.
The rivalry between League and Union has been stoked by money men and administrators with marketing departments. But there is also a rich history of ‘cross pollination’. Not necessarily cooperation, but mutual benefit. Michael Cheika knows it, Eddie Jones knows it, even Andrew Johns does.
Look past some very obvious success stories in Sonny-Bill Williams, Lote Tuquiri and Israel Folau. If you must, even overlook World Cup winner, Jason Robinson.
A guy called Wally Lewis famously toured with the Australian Rugby Union School Boys alongside blokes called Michael O’Connor and Tony Melrose. That famous undefeated tour of 1977-78 also included the 3 Ella brothers.
Ricky Stuart played Union all through school, the same school George Gregan attended. Matt Giteau’s father (who sent him to the aforementioned school) was a ‘Leaguie’.
Mat Rogers, son of Cronulla legend Steve, attended The Southport School, went to Cronulla, played for the Wallabies then returned to the NRL.
How many of us played Union for our schools while playing League for clubs like the Nerang Roosters, just like Mathew Steve Rogers did?
Rugby Union has fostered some of League’s greatest sons and vice versa. League and Union boys have grown together, been schooled together for decades.
There is no valid argument that a choice must be made between building pathways for kids in Union and attracting the best talent available in the NRL. In fact, the two go hand in hand.
Right now, the Wallaby cattle just aren’t good enough in key positions across the spine of the team.
Can anybody seriously argue that Jordan Petaia or Tom Wright will turn out to be the next Gould, Burke, Latham or Folau?
Both players, our frontline options at fullback, are erratic and invariably poor at taking the right option. The few moments of brilliance we’ve seen have been outnumbered by brain explosions.
Joseph Sua’ali’i is the one talent available with both the background and skill set to address these problems. At least, he’s the best hope given the next best, Max Jorgensen is badly injured.
Similarly, at inside centre, I don’t see the next Tim Horan or Matt Giteau playing Super Rugby right now. I don’t see him in the talented under age teams either. But there is an explosive, ball playing, hard tackling player who is an uncanny blend of the two. He is captaining the Rabbitohs.
Cameron Murray is the answer to what comes after an aging Samu Kerevi. He played huge quantities of school boy rugby and excelled. He could offer the perfect foil for young Carter Gordon. He is not a ‘Leaguie’ who knows nothing about playing Union.
The more astute amongst you will point to the fact that there aren’t many players who succeeded in league before playing as a Union forward.
Brad Thorn did. He’s a freak.
England will never know if Sam Burgess would have been more effective at 6 or 8 than at inside centre.
A player like Payne Haas might be an indomitable ball carrier capable of menacing the likes of Duane Vermuelen, who humiliated the Wallaby pack on the weekend.
But too often, this discussion gets sidetracked by questions about a ‘Leaguies’ ball pilfering, scrummaging or lineout abilities. As if it’s the smartest rebuttal in town.
Australia is a proud sporting nation. League and Union share a difficult but rich history. Many of our kids grew up playing both.
Time to admit Leaguies know a fair bit about playing Union and vice versa. Always have and always will.