The big news in Rugby League this week surrounds Wigan Warriors, as they have secured the services of former star Joel Tomkins – in a move that sees him return from Rugby Union to take up the 13-man code again.
Tomkins played for Saracens between 2011-14, earning international honours along the way, making him a member of an exclusive club of dual-code internationals. However, although he has made the leap across codes and subsequently returned to his first sport, Tomkins isn’t the first man to do such a thing – but there have been varying degrees of success, with some players not returning anywhere near the same as when they left.
In fact, in the modern era, there have been a whole host of Rugby League stars that have made the leap to the 15-man code, and then come back ‘home’ once again. Here are a selection of the stars that made have made such a leap. If we’ve missed any out, don’t forget to get involved on social media.
Full-Back: Iestyn Harris
Harris is perhaps the most notable British candidate on this list, with his move back to Rugby League causing a massive stir in 2004. Harris left league back in 2001, having played for both Warrington and Leeds in the years prior to his departure from the game. He then moved to his ancestral home of Wales to play union for both Cardiff RFC and the Cardiff Blues, before that controversial move to Bradford in 2004 – with Leeds keen in bringing back their former player to Headingley. He would win the Super League Grand Final with the Bulls in 2005, before eventually finishing his career with Featherstone Rovers.
Winger: Lee Smith
Like stars such as Henry Paul, Lee Smith has made multiple leaps across the RL-RU divide, and is currently plying his trade in the 15-man code once again. Similar to Chev Walker, Smith burst onto the scene at Leeds as a versatile back with stacks of potential, before ultimately choosing to cross codes at arguably the peak age for an RL player. However, his first move to union was a disaster, with Smith only appearing once for London Wasps before a return to Leeds. He then switched to Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, before recently announcing he would again try his hand at the 15-man code, signing for Newcastle Falcons.
Centre: Setaimata Sa
Sa is a recent returnee to Rugby League, having signed with Hull FC midway through the 2014 Super League season. He had previously played RL for clubs such as Catalan Dragons and Sydney Roosters. He signed to play for London Irish in the 15-man game last year, and actually represented Samoa at international level – something he also achieved in Rugby League.
Centre: Mark Gasnier
Arguably one of the most talented NRL centres in recent years, Gasnier was once regarded by Phil Gould as the best three-quarter ever to play the Australian game. During his time at St George-Illawarra Dragons, he played Origin and international football for Australia, before making the move to play for Stade Francais. He scored ten times in 26 appearances for the French side – before coming back to finish his career in RL with the Dragons.
Winger: Karl Pryce
Younger brother of Bradford, St Helens and Catalan star Leon, Karl Pryce had an absolutely incredible try scoring record for Bradford at the start of his career, scoring 33 tries in 48 games. However, in 2006 he switched codes to play for Gloucester at the age of just 20, and appeared only three times for the side during his time in RU. He returned to RL with Wigan, before moves to Harlequins, back to Bradford and then Dewsbury – where he currently plays.
Stand-Off: Benji Marshall
A very recent addition to this exclusive club, Marshall returned to the NRL after a fairly unsuccessful spell in with the Auckland Blues in Rugby Union. He played full-back in the 15-man code without much success, and after less than a year with the club, he returned to his native Rugby League. He currently plays for St George-Illawarra Dragons in the NRL, after Wests Tigers opted not to re-sign the man who had served them with such distinction between 2003 and 2013. Could a New Zealand return be on the horizons for the upcoming Four Nations?
Scrum-Half: Henry Paul
Although his first spell in Rugby League was far more successful than the second, Henry Paul returned to RL back in 2006, after becoming a dual-code international with both England and New Zealand. Paul – who won major honours with Bradford and Wigan at domestic level in the 13-man game, left to play for Gloucester back in 2001, and stayed there until 2006. However, he would return to league with Harlequins RL, before eventually finishing his career in Rugby Union, playing with Leeds.
Prop: Chev Walker
When he burst onto the scene with Leeds in 1999, Chev Walker was immediately touted as a player with bags of potential. And he filled that potential fairly well, helping Leeds to domestic honours, as well as earning six caps for Great Britain. However, in 2006 he would leap across the great divide, signing for Rugby Union side Bath. His time in the 15-man code wasn’t successful though, making just eight Premiership appearances for the club, and he returned to league with Hull KR, where he had to overcome a horrific leg injury suffered against former club Leeds. He currently plays for Bradford.
Hooker: Craig Gower
A man who played 18 times for Australia in top-level Rugby League, Craig Gower is one of the finest half-back/hookers of the last 20 years. He made his name at Penrith, where he played an astonishing 238 times for the NRL club. However, in 2008 he would stun the world, as he crossed codes to play Rugby Union in France for Aviron Bayyonais. He made 74 appearances for the club between 2008 and 2011, but would ultimately finish his career in RL, even turning out in Super League for London Broncos. He made six appearances for the Newcastle Knights in 2013 before retiring last year.
Prop: Willie Mason
Still playing competitive rugby in the NRL with Newcastle Knights, former Hull Kingston Rovers man (even if it was a brief spell) Willie Mason is another who has a pretty disastrous spell in Rugby Union to his name. Throughout the early 2000s, Mason terrorised the world of Rugby League with his performances for both Canterbury and Australia, but he switched to RU in 2011 – making just a solitary appearance for Toulon (and one for the Barbarians).
Second-Row: Joel Tomkins
The man who inspired this list, which way will Tomkins’ second spell in Rugby League go? Many fancy him to be a huge success given his tender age and supreme talent, and after a fairly successful spell away with Saracens, he will add some real spice and punch to Wigan’s team as they go searching for honours in 2014.
Second-Row: Sonny Bill Williams
SBW is perhaps the biggest success story of all the men to play in both codes on this list – with his second spell in league going far better than some of the men he joins in this side. It is often said that players return to Rugby League a shadow of their former selves, but Sonny Bill Williams still looks to be at the peak of his powers – inspiring Sydney Roosters to an NRL Premiership win in 2013, before enjoying a stunning World Cup with New Zealand.
Loose-Forward: Timana Tahu
A name that may not be familiar to people that don’t watch the NRL, Timana Tahu is another man who endured a brief spell in the 15-man code before returning ‘home’. He was sensational when breaking on to the scene with Newcastle Knights in 1999, and earned a reputation as a prolific try-scorer – pouching 82 tries in 97 appearances for the Knights. A move to Parramatta followed, before he headed for RU in 2008, signing with the NSW Waratahs. However, less than a year later he left the Waratahs, and returned to RL – where he currently plays for the Knights once again.