Hull KR v Warrington Wolves: Luther Burrell back in rugby league admitting ‘flip of a coin’ took him to union

GIVEN his wonderful career in rugby union, it may come as a surprise that “almost a flip of a coin” helped Luther Burrell initially decide on that code rather than rugby league.

Luther Burrell has swapped rugby union for league after joining Warrington Wolves, who face a Super League trip to Hull KR today, a side who feature another player who has played both codes in Joel Tomkins, inset. Picture: Warrington Wolves

At the age of 31, with 15 England caps to his name and a Premiership title with Northampton Saints, the powerful centre is finally embarking on a stint in league following his high-profile move to Warrington Wolves.

They head to Hull KR today, who have another former England rugby union centre – Joel Tomkins – in their ranks.

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Indeed, it was an injury to Tomkins, who had joined Saracens from Wigan Warriors, that led to the former Leeds Tykes star making his first Test appearance in 2014.

However, still only in the early days of his cross-code switch, Burrell is unable to play officially until July 1 so there will be no match-up against his former colleague this afternoon.

As a highly-rated teenager, who figured in Huddersfield Giants’ scholarship and also played for Tykes’ academy, he had the option of signing professionally in both codes.

A schoolfriend was Jermaine McGillvary, the current Giants and England winger who also hails from Huddersfield.

Burrell explained to The Yorkshire Post: “I knew Jermaine and a few players from school and growing up playing league.

“I was with Leeds Tykes, but their contracts were all dual-registered so I was eligible to train with the Rhinos if I wanted to and I did do.

“I shared several training sessions with them. I enjoyed rugby league. I played it throughout my whole youth and it was an option.

“When I was at Leeds there was Kallum Watkins, Jodie Broughton and Luke Gale, all these boys that have pushed on to great careers.

“I was at Huddersfield on a sort of scholarship and we used to train down at the old Fartown ground. I still talk to the majority of those lads; they’ve followed my career as I’ve followed theirs.

“But it eventually just came to the point where I was contracted at Leeds (Tykes) and I just really had to decide which path I wanted to take. It came down to a lot of discussions and contracts – things like that – came into it a little bit and some security.

“I thought the best option for me was to pursue union, but it wasn’t for any real particular reason. It was almost like a flip of a coin at that stage.

“It worked out pretty well for me. The rest is history. But it’s great now I do get the opportunity to get myself in Super League.”

Of course, there has been heartache along the way for Burrell who – having made such a promising start to his international career – was controversially dropped for the 2015 World Cup.

England chief Stuart Lancaster, who was the player’s Tykes academy coach and later his first team coach at Headingley, made the decision with rugby league convert Sam Burgess parachuted in instead. Understandably Burrell felt badly let down at the time, but maintains he has no issues with it now.

Embarrassed England crashed out of their home tournament in the pool stages, Lancaster losing his job in the process.

But Burrell maintains there are no hard feelings. “I’ve not spoken to Lanny of late,” he said.

“I’ve actually considered getting in touch with him just to make sure he’s all good and if he’s ever in the area to come catch a game. When we did (speak), he didn’t give me a reason why he left me out back then.

“He just said if he’d have had the opportunity again he’d have done things slightly different. He said sorry for the way things were handled and that’s all that was needed from me. I was disappointed, of course I was, but I didn’t blame him or blame anyone particularly.

“It was just a really difficult situation for me to get my head around at that point.

“Look, he’ll always be welcome at my dining table will Lanny and I’d love to think that I could always call him up and go for a brew.

“He’s been a great inspiration for me. I’m very thankful for what he did and how he’s helped me and helped me progress.”

And where will he end up in league? “I’ve been running at centre this week; I think that’s where my skill-set is suited,” said Burrell. “My running lines never really left me. I built my career in union on that. It’ll take some work, but I back my ability to perform.”