Rugby Union, riding the crest of a wave of success through the nineties culminating with the success of the 1999 World Cup began pilfering rugby league in search of entertaining players that could keep the momentum of popularity for the code soaring. This endeavour saw the Australian Rugby Union sign some of rugby league's greatest talent. With the National Rugby league Clubs restricted by salary cap restraints in order to keep the game fair had no response to the over the top offers presented by the ARU. This led to the signatures of a bevy of prime rugby league talent. The first signature was perhaps the hardest of them all; Wendell Sailor, the much loved entertainer of the game was gone. Sailor's signature was followed by Matt Rogers Lote Tuquiri, Timanah Tahu and more recently Mark Gasnier.
These signings were processed by the ARU with complete disrespect for the NRL and rugby league fans in general. There was no financial compensation for the NRL or clubs for developing these athletes though their junior years and into top line professional sport. Although it saddens me say the ARU were admitting that there code was not able at that stage to deliver players of the class, or entertaining value that could put more fans in the stands..
The next big mistake was to think that these league players could make a significant impact in their code. Although these players were very entertaining footballers and of a very high standard, the simple fact of the matter is that rugby union does not give the same freedoms for players to showcase their talents and skills that Rugby League does.
Wether you want to argue that the league converts were or were not a success, the fact of the matter is that all of these players have returned to the mother ship of entertainment, rugby league.
The biggest news story of the past week is that of the possible defection of Quade Cooper from Rugby Union to Rugby league. John O'Neill the master mind behind the defections of league players to union has jumped straight out of the blokes to play down the chances of Quade switching to League. Clearly O'neill was a little rattled by the news. Perhaps he should seek advice from David Gallop the NRL CEO to see how it feels to have your players stolen from a rival code.
Cooper is considered the lynch Pin of a new breed of Australian Rugby players. His flair and speed around the mid field makes him one of the hottest prospects in rugby world talent. In recent games Copper has showed he now has the maturity to be a consistent top line international player in attack and defence. If he were to be lost to League it would leave Australia's world cup hopes in tatters. However it may be a good chance for John O'neill to feel the same type of anguish that rugby league fans felt when they lost some of their best players in the prime of their careers. How much it hurt Queenslanders not to see Wendell Sailor playing on the right wing for the proud state. (Instead Sailor earning $700,000 was trying to stay warm in a "cold desert", otherwise know as playing wing in a game of union).
C'mon Quade give the league supporter's a rare opportunity to get one back on the old union and join the greatest game of them all.