Key Warriors signing Sam Tomkins could be the next big-name league star to switch to rugby after revealing a desire to play alongside his brother and Sam Burgess in the English national team.
"I'd like to try rugby union," Tomkins revealed this week in a statement that will cause a few more nervous twitches within the NRL who will see headline stars Burgess and Sonny Bill Williams exit the code at the end of this season to chase rugby world cup glory next year.
But unlike Burgess, who negotiated an early end to his NRL contract with South Sydney, Tomkins said he would see out his three-year contract with the Warriors before contemplating any switch to English rugby, ruling him out from joining Burgess as a contender for RWC 2015.
"It's not something that's on any time scale at the moment, but I'm 24 and hopefully I've got a number of years left in me, so at some point I'd like to give union a crack," Tomkins told the Sunday Star-Times.
Tomkins' older brother Joel, who also made his name as a star for the Wigan league club, switched to rugby three years ago and has already played a few tests for England.
The younger Tomkins said cross-code jumping was now commonplace and shouldn't create the controversy it has in the past.
"It happens quite a lot now, look at Israel Folau. Kyle Eastmond in England has done it and converted well, as my brother (Joel) has," he said. "To be a dual code international is certainly something I'd like to see on my CV.
"I hope Sam does really well. He has put himself in a position where because of how good he's been over the last four years he's given himself the opportunity to do whatever he wants in either code. Fair play to him. He's done plenty for rugby league, certainly English rugby league and proving that Englishmen can not only stand up in the NRL but be among the best players. I'm sure he'll take rugby union by storm."
The loss of Burgess to the 13-man code is bad news for England's chances in the Four Nations at the end of the year, though, and it's another blow to the English game as the Super League now appears to be the third most attractive option for their top players, behind the NRL and a switch to rugby.
Intriguingly, if Tomkins sees out his contract at the Warriors he would become eligible for the All Blacks, due to residing in New Zealand for three years. But it is not a scenario he's interested in.
"I don't think I'd ever do that," he said. "I wouldn't ever play for any other country (than England)."
Former Warriors forward Awen Guttenbeil says the fact that one of league's biggest names is moving to rugby and that Tomkins is contemplating it isn't a good look for the sport.
"It's an evolution in professional sport," Gutenbeil said. "What do you do? Do you keep chucking a lot more money at players to keep them?
"I'm sure the top players get a similar amount of money whether they're playing rugby or league, it's just that lure of the World Cup and playing international rugby.
"We do have problems in keeping those sorts of players in our game and if they're leaving for the challenge and we don't have that in league, then you can't blame them."
Craig Innes, who played for New Zealand in both codes, says Burgess and Tomkins could both be successful in rugby, especially the latter.
"You'd have to say Burgess is the No 1 league front rower in the world at the moment and he's a beast of a guy," the former All Black centre said. "Learning the ins and outs of rugby before the World Cup is going to be a reasonably big call and the transition for a forward is more complicated than it is for an outside back.
"That's why I could see Tomkins doing well making the transition to wing or fullback, and he's also got the ability to play in the centres."
- Sunday Star Times
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