England's rugby league imports - Hit or Miss?

29 March 2017 10:53

Sale wing Denny Solomona has set his sights on an England place following his switch from rugby league, potentially following in the footsteps of several other converts.

Here, we look at some high-profile players who have previously switched codes and played union for England - with contrasting effect.


Jason Robinson

Robinson set a standard for converts from rugby league to union that no other England player has threatened. The former Wigan and Great Britain wing joined union club Sale in 2000 and went on to enjoy a glittering career in the 15-a-side code, highlighted by scoring a try in the 2003 World Cup final when England beat Australia and starring for the British and Irish Lions Down Under two years earlier. He scored 28 tries in 51 Tests for England, a figure bettered by just four players - Rory Underwood, Will Greenwood, Ben Cohen and Jeremy Guscott.

Chris Ashton

Like Robinson, Ashton featured for Wigan as a teenager and was one of the most prolific try-scorers in rugby league before switching codes and joining Northampton 10 years ago. He made his England union debut against France in 2010, scoring 19 tries in 39 Tests, with many of those touchdowns being accompanied by his so-called 'Ash Splash' dive celebration. Has not played Test rugby since 2014 but continues to impress for his current club Saracens. Will join French heavyweights Toulon this summer.

Kyle Eastmond

An elusive runner and prolific points-scorer, Eastmond shone in rugby league for St Helens before switching codes in 2011 when he joined Bath. He was a half-back while at St Helens but Bath employed him as a centre and he quickly impressed through an attack-minded approach, going on to score 15 tries in 72 appearances. He won six caps for England in 2013 and 2014 and is now with Wasps, the current Aviva Premiership leaders and European Champions Cup quarter-finalists.


Sam Burgess

Burgess' one-year rugby union stint was an eventful one. He agreed a lucrative deal with Bath, moving to them from Australian NRL champions South Sydney, although his debut was delayed after he suffered a serious facial injury helping his league club win the 2014 Grand Final. Bath played him at flanker and centre but he did not readily adapt to the more complex union game. He made England's 2015 World Cup squad but they crashed out in the pool stage and he returned to South Sydney shortly afterwards.

Lesley Vainikolo

Tonga-born Vainikolo played rugby league for New Zealand and scored a remarkable 149 tries in 152 appearances for Bradford Bulls. He switched codes in 2007 and scored five tries on his Gloucester debut, but his union career never took off at the highest level. After qualifying for England on residency grounds, he made his union Test debut in 2008, winning five caps that year, but he failed to score an international try and then disappeared quickly from the scene. Left Gloucester to join French club La Rochelle in 2012.

Henry Paul

Paul's union career was something of a mixed bag. In league, the New Zealand international starred for Wigan and Bradford, and he moved to Gloucester in 2001 following a brief stint at Bath five years earlier. He qualified for England via his grandfather, who was born in Liverpool, and six Test caps followed between 2002 and 2004 but he was mainly a peripheral figure. Paul, though, did enjoy success in union's sevens format, highlighted by him winning a silver medal with England at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

Source: PA