IT’S becoming perhaps less common as time goes on, but one cross-code rugby star has opened up on his experience in the 13-man game.
After a career spent building an emphatic reputation in the 15-man code, Luther Burrell joined Warrington Wolves ahead of the 2019 Super League season.
In 18 months, however, Burrell made just eight appearances for the Cheshire club. And despite enjoying his overall experience with the Wolves, the former England union international did feel as though he deserved more of a chance.
“Unfortunately my time at Warrington was relatively short, I left my contract maybe 18 months in,” Burrell told League Express.
“It was a difficult period as well as we had just gone into Covid so there was a lot of uncertainty around a lot of things which I had to consider.
“I felt a little bit ambiguous upon leaving because I felt like I could have had an impact at the club but the depth that Warrington had made it very difficult to adjust to in the time I had at the club.
“Overall it was a good experience. Karl Fitzpatrick (Warrington’s chief executive) was great and the owners, Simon (Moran) etc, were great.”
Though coming into a new environment is difficult at the best of times, it was even more tough for a rugby union convert, who had to “break down barriers” before being seen as a rugby league player.
Burrell said: “The lads took me in though it did take a while to break down barriers with them with me coming from rugby union.
“They probably had a perception of me with me coming from union, but it was great jumping in at the deep end and getting stuck into it to show that I was there to learn and help where I could on and off the field.
“My time was cut short but it was a pleasant enough experience and I still speak to a few of the lads now.”
How did Burrell break down barriers?
“I’m very much an actionable character, so my behaviour does the talking for me, especially coming from rugby union where it was predominantly privately-educated pathways into rugby.
“My journey to doing that had already been tough so I was constantly having to learn my training, my morals and let my ability answer any doubts out there.
“I turned up at Warrington being 112kg and within six months I was down to 102kg. For someone to do that whilst learning a new game and being part of a new sport, it was tough. The coach wanted me to be more agile and I showed my dedication. I was consistently doing extras and coming in early.
“It’s all very different, you don’t see many players transition from union to league so I basically jumped into the hard work and it was extremely hard work.
“Ade Gardner (Warrington’s strength and conditioning coach at the time) put me in some dark places with my fitness and mental tests with training. I just wanted to not show any arrogance that I was too good to be doing that.
“I was starting at the bottom of the food chain again and had to work my way up which is what I did. Ultimately the coaching staff and players all saw that and respected it.
“I wanted to leave no stone unturned and I think they saw me putting all that work in which helped me break down barriers and integrate myself into training.”
After just eight games for the Wolves, Burrell left the Halliwell Jones Stadium midway through the 2020 Super League season.
“I wasn’t getting selected when I had racked up 200 Premiership games and represented my country. I was born to go out on the field and I think I had played about eight games in 18 months,” he said.
“There was no way I would go out on loan because in my head I was protecting myself from injuries and ultimately I wanted to represent Warrington. That’s where I was best suited and going out on loan wasn’t an option.
“There were no reserves fixtures so I couldn’t jump into those for game time. It was a bit of a reality check as to where I was at.
“I’d almost become a professional trainer and that’s not what I wanted. I was at a certain age in my life and career and I wanted to help teams win and succeed so I could add my experience to the group.”
Burrell believed that a return to rugby union was the best thing and that’s exactly what he did, signing a deal with Newcastle Falcons.
He said: “Warrington had come in for me twice and that’s when I thought they obviously wanted me, but at the point of me leaving, the game had changed since I played about ten years ago. I felt it was better for me to go back to union to try and enjoy the remaining years I had.
“I had to think about my life after my career and what it looked like and where I could have the biggest impact so I had a lot to consider and especially with it being in Covid time too, there was a lot of uncertainty around the structure of the league and financial situation for everyone.
“For me I had to think about my future plans and actually getting back out onto the field playing. I’m not sure a Wigan, St Helens or Leeds would have come in for me at that point and I just felt I needed to go back where I had learnt my trade for the past 15 years.”
Burrell explained Warrington’s previous offer and why he turned them down.
“Tony Smith was in charge, he knew me from when I was on a dual-contract with Leeds Rhinos and Leeds Tykes when I was younger. It was around Tony’s successful period at Leeds,” he said.
“Tony is a great guy and we got on really well, we’d often just have a laugh. He came in for me when I was 26 or 27 but it wasn’t the right time. I was in the heights of playing for England.”
For more information on how to book Luther to speak at your event please visit www.evolve-agency.co.uk
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