Warrington Wolves shocked the rugby union world in February when they announced that they had signed England international Luther Burrell.
Burrell comes from Huddersfield and studied at All Saints Catholic College and Huddersfield New College.
A schoolboy friend of Jermaine McGillvary, Burrell started playing Rugby league until he was 15 years old. He then switched codes and made his senior rugby union debut for Leeds Carnegie aged 19 in 2006-07, going on to make 41 appearances for the club.
Burrell spent four seasons at Leeds before moving over the Pennines to Sale Sharks in 2011, and the following season he signed for Northampton Saints where he would gain 15 full England caps.
But he always wanted to come back to Rugby League eventually, and earlier this year Warrington made him a tempting offer. He arrived at the club at the start of July, although he would only make three appearances during the rest of the 2019 season.
Burrell’s contract with the Wolves runs for two more years, and, having turned 32 last Friday, he realises that time isn’t exactly on his side if he is going to make a big impact in Super League, although the demands of the two games are quite dissimilar.
“It was always going to be difficult for me, coming to the club half way through a season,” Burrell told League Express.
“I had to try to get integrated and up to speed as quickly as I could. The community has been really great with me and the support they’ve shown me has been tremendous.
“Although the two sports share some things in common, ultimately they are two different games. You might tackle hard and run hard when you have the ball in your hand, but there are a lot of technicalities that have to go alongside those factors in Rugby League.
“So last season I was just trying to get myself up to speed as quickly as I could. But we also had some very important games in that period, so it was always going to be difficult for me to force my way into the team and displace other players from the squad, which is always an uncomfortable thing to do anyway.
“But now we are on a level playing field, so we can just rip in during pre-season and aim to be selected in the matchday squad.
But what is the most significant difference as far as Burrell is concerned?
“The most tackles I ever made in a rugby union game was 17 or 18, and that was rare,” he says.
“I probably did it a couple of times only. But in the two 80-minute performances I had for Warrington, I was up in the twenties. In a rugby union game I could sometimes make fewer than ten tackles, and that is just how the game runs with its set pieces.
“You are just constantly on the move in Rugby League with little time to recover.
“In terms of fitness, Rugby League demands a different type of match fitness. I’m getting fit to play Rugby League now, but if I were to go and play a rugby union game I would still be tired. It’s difficult to explain the differences, but I have had to lose weight and get fitter to play Rugby League and enhance my endurance.
Another issue facing Burrell is establishing his best position, given that he was a centre in rugby union. It’s significant that centres Bryson Goodwin and Ryan Atkins both left the club at the end of the season, although the Wolves also signed Anthony Gelling, who will provide competition for Burrell in the centres, alongside Tony King.
“Winger, centre or back row, I’d put my hand up for any of those positions,” he says.
“I just want to get my hands on the ball. I think of myself as a skilful player with a decent offload game, so I just want to try and get out on the field as often as I can.
“There’s myself and Gelling as well as some young lads coming through who can play in the threequarters, so it’s a healthy position for the club to be in with competition for places.
“We’re in pre-season and now’s a good time for us all to compete with each other, while having a craic along the way.
“But by the time the season starts I have to be up to speed. There is no alternative.”
© League Express (Mon 9th Dec 2019)