Rugby’s Cross-Code Heroes: The Best Players to Make the Switch

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Over the years, and as the landscape of league and union has changed, it hasn’t been uncommon to see players swap the XIII for the XV. Since Anthony Starks and Jack Rhapps became the first cross-code internationals over 100 years ago, many have taken the plunge and made the switch. But, who really are the best to try their hands at both sides of the oval ball?

1. Sonny Bill Williams

There and back again – and there again. Sonny Bill Williams has done as much for sport in New Zealand as any man, and that includes representing the All Blacks in both codes.

Starting his career with Canterbury Bulldogs in league, the Kiwi switched codes to star for Toulon, before later returning to the XIII with Sydney Roosters. He’s since made the switch again; his power in the tackle and ability to lay the ball off from it makes him a valuable asset in union.

Not only is he adept in both formats of rugby, as evidenced by his trophy haul of 19, the centre has also proven a dab hand in the ring. Williams has won his seven heavyweight bouts so far and is set to face Stu Laundy this December in a charity match.

2. Jason Robinson

A Wigan legend and rightly regarded as one of the greatest wingers to play the game, Jason Robinson more than deserves his place in a list of the best to cross the divide.

Fast, skilful, and capable of going past defenders like they weren’t there, Leeds-born Robinson followed up his 302-appearance league career at Wigan with a Rugby World Cup in union. Famously scoring the only try in the final against Australia in 2003, he would go on to represent England in the unsuccessful 2007 final – a somewhat bitter end to a greatly successful career.

3. Iestyn Harris

While the two names already listed are familiar to all in the rugby world, neither are as prolific across the two codes, and as a coach as Iestyn Harris. The Oldham-born Welsh international made nearly 500 appearances in league and union.

The man with Super League and Challenge Cup honours to his name represented Leeds and Cardiff Blues in a lengthy and successful career. Like Williams, Harris made the journey between the divides twice, returning to rugby league competition with Bradford Bulls after a relatively short spell in Cardiff. This made him the first man to play league domestically and internationally, before making the switch to union and doing the same, before returning.

Harris made headlines in 2001, when he was selected for the Welsh rugby union side after 200 minutes of rugby with Cardiff. After a debut point haul of 31, it was always likely the outside-half would fast-track himself into the national outfit.

While he hasn’t been seen in professional rugby since leaving his post as head coach at Salford Red Devils, he has remained vocal in his support of the Welsh national team he once managed, and is still regarded as one of the best men to cross the line in both codes.

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