Pundits and fans have been coming out of the woodwork to label Sam Burgess as one of the worst converts of all time in the wake of his abrupt return to the South Sydney Rabbitohs after just one year in rugby union.
While ‘Slammin’ Sam’s’ 15-a-side stint didn’t live up to expectations, he did get fast-tracked into the England Test side and handled a switch to the backline – after playing his entire league career in the pack – fairly impressively in a short period of time.
The team at Commentary Box Sports think there’s plenty of league-to-union converts that offered less value than Burgess, and those underwhelming code-hoppers are the subject of today’s Daily Top 5.
5. Luke Rooney
Tall winger Luke Rooney famously scored two tries in Penrith’s 2003 Grand Final upset of the Roosters, using that triumph as a springboard to participating in back-to-back NSW Origin series victories and scoring six tries in six Tests for Australia in 2004-05. After a 140-game career for the Panthers which netted 65 tries, Rooney accepted an offer from French rugby union powerhouse Toulon. But his 15-a-side foray was consistently thwarted by injuries. Rooney played just 22 games in two seasons with Toulon (alongside Sonny Bill Williams) before taking a deal with Super Rugby newcomers the Melbourne Rebels for 2011, but a stint with New Zealand provincial side Hawkes Bay was cut short by injury, and he played only two games for the Rebels before rejoining Touloun.
4. Timana Tahu
Gifted three-quarter Tahu ranked among the NRL’s most prolific try-scorers when he made a shock switch to Rugby union at the end of 2007, leaving behind a record of 102 tries in just 143 games for Newcastle (including a four-pointer in the Knights’ 2001 Grand Final win) and Parramatta. He also crossed eight times in 12 Origins for NSW, and bagged five tries in five Tests for Australia. Joining the NSW Waratahs on a big-money deal in conjunction with the ARU, Tahu was fast-tracked into the Wallabies’ squad in his first season, making four Test appearances against New Zealand, South Africa and Italy. He was tried at wing, centre and second five-eighth, but failed to settle in the new code and abruptly returned to the NRL at the end of 2009 – just two years into his four-season union contract. Tahu’s rugby league comeback included an immediate Origin recall, but was hampered by injury problems and racism controversies, of which the Aboriginal and Maori star has been on both sides.
3. Benji Marshall
One of the NRL era’s great entertainers, a premiership winner and a long-serving New Zealand Test captain, Marshall’s tenure with Wests Tigers ended acrimoniously in 2013 as he signed a deal with Super Rugby franchise the Blues. The move to Auckland was a disaster, however, with Marshall struggling to adapt to the nuances of union backline play as a flyhalf and fullback for the struggling John Kirwan-coached side. The gifted ball-player pulled the pin after just six appearances for the Blues, but to his credit he admitted the switch was an abject failure and made a tremendous return to St George Illawarra midway through 2014, before finishing equal-second in the following season’s Dally M Medal count.
2. Nathan Blacklock
One of rugby league’s greatest-ever try-scorers, Blacklock embarked on one of the shortest code switches of all time in 2003. The Indigenous winger topped the NRL’s tryscoring charts in three straight seasons (1999-2001), and although he was chosen in the 2001 Kangaroo Tour squad – playing one Test against each of Papua New Guinea and Great Britain – his constant and inexplicable snubbing by NSW selectors reportedly contributed to his shock departure from St George Illawarra midway through 2002. Blacklock linked with the NSW Waratahs in 2003 (playing alongside another new league recruit in Lote Tuqiri) but made just five Super Rugby appearances. He was subsequently dropped from the Waratahs’ reserve side for disciplinary reasons during the first season of a two-year deal, and was back playing for the Dragons by June. Blacklock finished his NRL career in ’04 with the remarkable record of 121 tries in only 142 games, before joining Super League club Hull FC.
1. Willie Carne
The world’s best Rugby league winger during the early-1990s, Roma product Carne won two Grand Finals with Brisbane among 134 appearances for 72 tries, played 12 Origins for Queensland and scored 10 tries in as many Test appearances. Carne’s career stalled after he was the victim of several nasty high shots in 1994-95, and he switched to rugby union’s Queensland Reds after a forgettable ’96 campaign for the Broncos – becoming the first high-profile league star to switch after rugby union turned professional. After a tentative start in the 15-a-side game, the 28-year-old was ultimately unable to force his way into the Super 12 franchise’s line-up and retired from professional sport altogether in 1997.