The debate between Rugby League and Rugby Union will always be an ever-present topic of conversation for any rugby fan. The discussion always revolves around the question, which one is better? It is clear that both have their merits but it should be remembered that they are two different sports even though they share some of the same player attributes.
Because of this, it is common for players to switch codes. Jason Robinson, Jonathan Davies, Shontayne Hape, Sam Burgess and Kevin Sinfield are some of the big names who have switched to Union in their careers and even though traffic is light coming the other way, it is still a viable option for Union players. With Kyle Eastmond announcing that he will play for Leeds in 2021 after ten years in Rugby Union, and with the Six Nations currently gracing our screens showcasing the best in Europe, the question of which Union players would be valuable assets for Super League has been floating around.
The six chosen players below represent some of the available options to answer that question. Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list; the huge amount of talent in Union is obvious but here as are some suggestions of players that would excel in Super League.
It cannot be argued with that the current captain of England has Rugby League pedigree within him. The son of Wigan and Super League legend Andy Farrell (the now head coach for Ireland Rugby Union) Owen has instead put his eggs in the Rugby Union basket, playing for Saracens for all of his club career. As England captain he has ascended to a new level of stardom within the sport, guiding the Red Rose to Six Nations victory in 2020 and a World Cup Final in 2019 against South Africa. He has earned over 90 caps and scored over 1000 points in representative rugby. Couple this with the fly-half’s remarkable feat of achieving over 2,000 points for Saracens, you can be sure that Owen Farrell would continue this success within Super League. He is a hard defender and an exquisite kicker of the ball and to see him play in the top flight of Rugby League would further cement the name Farrell in the 13-a-side folklore.
Francois “Faf” de Klerk
Followers of club Rugby Union in England will know de Klerk well as he is currently playing in his fifth season with the Sale Sharks. What most readers will know him for though is his sensational run with the Springboks in the 2019 World Cup. Easily identifiable by his relatively short stature and shockingly blonde hair, de Klerk was like a comet racing through the opposition and his unpredictability made him a nightmare to defend against. This was something that England found out to their cost in the World Cup Final as South Africa painfully unravelled them. There is no doubt that de Klerk is a fantastic all round Rugby player and would fit in immensely well within a Super League setting as the quicker pace suits his playing style. It may be suffice to say that if he did make the move, he would be one of the best players Super League had ever seen.
The hardest working England player at the moment by a huge margin, Maro Itoje is a huge force to be reckoned with out on the field and has fully engrained himself within the current England team’s DNA. A teammate alongside Owen Farrell at Saracens, Itoje has won Premierships, European Championships and was voted best European Player of the Year in 2019. This is not surprising as his performances in the 2019 World Cup were nothing short of superb. Aside from being a physical presence in both attack and defence, he is also deceptively quick and light-footed, sidestepping would-be tacklers with apparent ease. Not bad for a six-foot-five, 18 stone flanker! If Itoje came to Super League, he would be a true marquee signing for any club.
Having made 100 appearances with Wales and having had distinguished spells with Northampton Saints and the Ospreys, George North is one of Wales’s best ever Rugby players. He has been a constant asset for Wales and has never failed to secure selection for any international competition for eleven years. Out on the wing he is a true danger to opposing teams as he can be difficult to stop given his size, but he can also mix it up with the best of them in the middle, never shying away from hard work to get the job done. Any Super League team would be bolstering their ranks no end if North decided to switch codes.
The second best England try scorer of all time behind Rory Underwood, Jonny May has been a mainstay at the top level of English Rugby for close to eight years. Securing his first cap against Argentina in 2013, it is clear that when a game relies on kicks just as much as tries, to have scored that amount in representative rugby tells the reader all they need to know about Jonny May. In club rugby, May is best known for playing with Gloucester from 2009-2017 before asking to be released to go to Leicester Tigers. In 2020 it was announced he would return to his former club where he has remained since. May is quick with brilliant footwork, placing him among the best, and in Super League he would definitely create problems for any teams he faced.
Hailing from a sporting family on both sides from Porirua, New Zealand, TJ Perenara has been the face of the All Blacks since 2016 when he took over from Aaron Smith as Haka leader. This is a position that is handed to a player who truly deserves the accolade and based off of Perenara’s performances, it is easy to see why. Having made 66 appearances for the All Blacks, he has been the number one choice for the position of half-back since 2016 and is one of the leading playmakers within the team. He can manage play with his eyes closed and his try against Namibia in the pool stages of the 2019 World Cup earned him the IRP Try of the Year. In club rugby, Perenara has been hugely successful with the Hurricanes (based in Wellington) in the Super Rugby competition but shocked many when he made the move over to Japan. From 2021 onwards, he will play for the NTT Red Hurricanes and will no doubt continue to build upon the progress that was made in Japanese Rugby Union after the World Cup. If he came to Super League, he would be one of the most successful New Zealand signings that the league has ever seen.