The Super League season is rounding to tense finish just as the union campaign is preparing to begin, and England coach Eddie Jones is at the centre of a new debate in the cross-code war.
Fans from both factions have enjoyed a friendly rivalry for decades, sparked again on Monday after Jones appeared on Sky Sports’ coverage for St. Helens’ 24-12 win over Warrington.
Former Ireland and Great Britain winger Brian Carney is one of those examples who earned success in both trades, giving him enough clout to challenge one of Jones’ claims during his cameo.
The Red Rose chief rarely fails to entertain in his media duties and gave a tongue-in-cheek response when asked if there were any Super League stars who could blossom in union.
Jones, 61, didn’t require much thought to pick out Hull FC full-back Jake Connor for a potential switch, although he made sure to point out his fitness levels would need to improve.
“I spent a bit of time up at Hull and I like the full-back there, Connor,” Jones commented.
“He’s a tough, skilful player and I’m sure if he got a bit fitter he could make it.”
That reply drew an almost incredulous response from Carney, who starred for Wigan Warriors in Super League before joining NRL giants the Newcastle Knights in 2006.
Cork man Carney, 45, also played for two years with Munster after transitioning to the 15-a-side code in 2007, earning his place in Ireland’s Rugby World Cup squad that year.
In response to Jones’ assertion that a league star would need better fitness to play union, Carney laughed as he suggested the England tactician must have been joking.
“A rugby league player needing to get fitter to play rugby union,” he said.
“We’ve had a magician here, now we’ve got a comedian.
“Thanks very much, Eddie Jones, for his contributions.”
Those comments drew a roaring response from pundit Jon Wilkin, the former St. Helens and England stalwart who retired in 2020 following a 19-year career in Super League.
Wilkin, 37, could hardly contain himself following Carney’s rebuttal, the pair clearly in agreement league players need no instruction from their union equivalents when it comes to conditioning.
When asked which union player could succeed moving in the opposite direction, Jones backed a certain Exeter Chiefs hooker to bloom in the 13-a-side code: "Luke Cowan-Dickie would make a fantastic prop.”
While front-rowers and most forward roles have slimmed down considerably at the elite level in the past decade or so, rugby union still has a number of positions that tend to have burlier players.
What’s more, some of those forwards have become accustomed to playing for only the first 50 or 60 minutes of a game, whereas league counterparts could be required from start to finish.
The lines between positions are far more blurred in league, where there’s less fluctuation in body types and more of a settled average in terms of fitness and other physical attributes.
Carney also has rare insight into the matter considering he played at the top level in both fields, impressing enough with Munster to quickly make Ireland's union squad.
Many league fans will concur with Carney’s comeback that league players are the fitter specimens on the whole, and England supremo Jones is himself biased in the debate.
That wouldn’t prevent the Australian from making his own cross-code manoeuvre, however, as he went on to hint at a future in league when his contract ends after the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
“Past the World Cup in 2023 I’m open to all offers,” he said.
“I grew up in a rugby league area around Redfern so I love the Rabbitohs and I love rugby league, it’s in my blood. If there was an opportunity post-World Cup then I’d certainly look at it.”
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