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Blacked out: The All Blacks’ relationship with rugby league

01 Feb 21, 10:43AM 0 Comments

Written by John Davidson

Photo by Getty Images

The defection of NRL star Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to the All Blacks has sent many heads in rugby league spinning.

It’s not surprising – ‘RTS’ is a freak. One of the best five players in the world, easily.

At 27 he’s already done just about it all in the sport – an NRL grand final winner, a Dally M medal winner, Dally M winger of the year in 2013, Dally M fullback of the year in 2015, he’s played in a World Cup final, played 20 Tests for his country, captained his club, made nearly 200 appearances in the NRL over nine seasons.

There’s few mountains for him left to climb.

Yes, he is a big loss to rugby league. Just like SBW was before him, and Jarryd Hayne, and Wendell Sailor, and Lote Tuqiri, and Matt Rogers, and Jason Robinson, Andy Farrell etc etc etc. But the sport will go on, new stars will emerge. They always do.

And looking over the years, rugby league has actually pinched more from the All Blacks than the other way round.

In fact, there has only been two Kiwi internationals who have ever played rugby league for New Zealand and then gone on to play for the All Blacks – Sonny Bill Williams and the outside back Karl Ifwerson from 1913-1921. The rest have gone from rugby union, from the best national team in the 15-man code, to rugby league.

That list includes the skillful Craig Innes, who starred for Manly and Leeds, Marc Ellis, who joined the Warriors, and John Timu who went on to play for the Bulldogs and London.

There was more in the 1980s and 1990s, including the goal-kicking phenom Frano Botica who played for Wigan and Castleford, as well as centre Kurt Sherlock, who made 88 appearances for Easts, and John Schuster and Va’aiga Tuigamala.

And that’s not to forget Matthew Ridge, who swapped a promising rugby union career to join the Sea Eagles and later the Warriors.

Over the years rugby league clubs have often tried to poach the best and brightest from the All Blacks. Manly attempted to land Zinzan Brooke, while several sides tried to convince the legendary Jonah Lomu to come over to rugby league in the mid-1990s.

There is always crossovers and switches. That will never change.

And over the decades rugby league has done pretty damn well enticing big names over to the 13-man code.

There’s been Ray Price, Michael O’Connor, Arthur Summons, Rex Mossop, Noa Nadruku, Brian Carney, Alan Tait, Jonathan Davies, John Devereux, Iestyn Harris, Billy Boston, Paul Moriaty, Jim Sullivan, David Watkins and Clive Sullivan, to name but a few.

And who could forget the one and only Dally Messenger?

More recently, rugby league has done well to nab some talented rugby union players in Australia, like Cam Murray and Angus Crichton, who both play for South Sydney, NSW and the Kangaroos, and prized wonderkid Joseph Suaali, who has been picked up by the Roosters.

So mourn the loss of Tuivasa-Sheck, that’s for sure.

But remember the good times he brought the Warriors, Roosters and Kiwis, and don’t forget code-hopping has been going on for more than 100 years. It’s natural selection, and it will surely keep happening for the next 100.

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