According to Jonathan Thurston’s agent the Cowboys rugby League star wants one million dollars to switch codes. The ARU on past experience would be foolish to give the matter another thought.
Whereas there have been many who have switched from Rugby Union to Rugby League there are not as many who have made the switch the other way successfully. It would appear that it is far easier for a union player to adapt to the crash and bash style of league than the other way around.
This is most obvious when you look at a player such as Wendell Sailor whose wing play never really adapted to traditional union wing play. In league wingers frequently cut infield when their passage is blocked to keep the ball alive. In union the winger will tend to take on their counterpart and try and get around the outside.
Ryan Cross has been one of the success stories to come across from rugby league, while Mat Rogers showed the ability to adapt being a sublime athlete, but always seemed to be a fish out of water. He had an uncomfortable look about him, as if he wished he were elsewhere.
It is interesting to read the views of both Rogers and Sailor on Thurston’s contemplated defection. Sailor being quoted as saying “he would get bored to tears with the style of the game.” Proving Sailor struggled to grasp the intricacies of being more than a high speed battering ram.
Whereas Rogers comments have far more foundation and show why he adapted far better. He was quoted as saying “It’s not a simple transition. There’s a lot to it. I don’t know his rugby background but he’s a natural footballer, he just knows where to be. If he goes he will play for the Wallabies, absolutely, I’d play him at 10. He couldn’t play half back, he’s a ball player, he’d kill it at five eighth.”
But the most interesting of Rogers’s comments relates to the work the ARU have to do to raise the passion surrounding its Super Rugby franchises. There is no doubt League has the history that Super Rugby doesn’t but Rogers no doubt speaks for many when he said “ the tribalism that surrounds rugby league, I love that. I love the fans, I love going to Leichardt Oval or Shark Park, you don’t experience that in Australian Rugby. You play Super 14 and tests and it’s a different audience.”
South African Union fans would probably give the league fans a run for their money, but in Australia Union fans are as Rogers states extremely tame and respectful, and create a completely different match day experience.