Farrell lured to union by £600,000 pay packet

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The Independent Online

Wigan and the Rugby Football Union have admitted that negotiations are taking place which could see Andy Farrell playing union for England in the 2007 World Cup.

Wigan and the Rugby Football Union have admitted that negotiations are taking place which could see Andy Farrell playing union for England in the 2007 World Cup.

A joint statement yesterday confirmed that discussions are taking place regarding the possible signing. The statement says that the chances of the Wigan and Great Britain captain making his dramatic switch would depend on the agreement of Wigan, the RFU, Premier Rugby, the player himself and an unnamed Zurich Premiership club - originally but now not thought to be Sale.

The news comes two months after an initial approach from the RFU to the representatives of Farrell and his Wigan and Great Britain team-mate, Kris Radlinski.

Both are under contract to Wigan until the end of the 2006 season, Farrell having agreed a £1m, six-year contract in 2000. But, while Radlinski has said that he is not interested, Farrell clearly is.

There is already a feeling of resignation within the code that he is as good as gone, with the RFL's executive chairman, Richard Lewis, saying that it would be with the game's good wishes, although he obviously hopes that he stays.

The same applies to Wigan. Now that Farrell has told them he fancies the challenge, they would probably settle for keeping him for this season and trying to enlist a loose forward of similar potential, such as New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams, for 2006.

Farrell, now 29, has been a dominant figure for club and country since making his debut for Wigan at the age of 16. He was a full international at 18, winning the first of his 34 Great Britain caps in 1993. He has not missed a Test since then and has been captain since 1996.

He has won every domestic honour in the game, including being named as Man of Steel - the game's major individual award - for the second time last season.

He was also presented with the Golden Boot as the world's outstanding player during last autumn's Tri-Nations and was awarded the OBE for services to rugby league in the New Year's honours list.

The one thing that has eluded him has been a series or tournament victory over Australia, and those close to him say that has been an increasing source of frustration.

That could have contributed to a feeling that he has achieved all he is going to achieve in league and is ready for a new challenge - especially one as well remunerated as this is supposed to be, with figures of £600,000 being bandied about.

The England coach, Andy Robinson, and his predecessor, Sir Clive Woodward, are known to be admirers, while their assistant, Joe Lydon, knows him well from his time at Wigan. For all that, signing him well after his 30th birthday would be a leap in the dark for the RFU. The only adult rugby union he has played was in the cross-code games against Bath, and the Middlesex Sevens, both in 1996.

Then there is the question of the mileage on the clock. Farrell has carried more than his share of the workload for both Wigan and Great Britain in recent years and is expected to miss the first three months of the new Super League season after an operation on an increasingly troublesome knee.

That adds an element of risk to any deal, but it could also have been a reminder to Farrell that his playing career, with its high-earning possibilities, is inexorably approaching its end.

If he does switch, he will be part of a sizeable former Wigan contingent that has aided the England RU cause since the opening of the free gangway between the codes. His Wigan contemporary, Barrie-Jon Mather, became the first dual international in reverse, and Henry Paul has also featured in the England team.

But by far the biggest impact has been made by Jason Robinson, whose Sale club is the obvious place for Farrell to learn his rugby union - although Farrell is thought to be keen to a move elsewhere in the country.

Andy Farrell man of steel

1975: Born on 30 May in Wigan.

1991: Signs for Wigan from local amateur club Orrell St James and makes senior debut at 16 as a substitute in a 32-8 Regal Trophy tie against Keighley on 24 November.

1993: Becomes youngest winner in a Challenge Cup final at 17 years 11 months as a substitute for Wigan against Widnes.

1994: Named Young Player of the Year.

1996: Appointed Wigan captain in July and becomes youngest-ever Great Britain captain for the tour to Papua New Guinea, Fiji and New Zealand at 21 years four months. Wins the prestigious Man of Steel award in October.

1998: Leads Wigan to victory in the inaugural Grand Final at Old Trafford.

2000: Signs a new £1m six-year contract with Wigan.

2001: Sets Wigan record for most points in a season with 429 and Super League record for most points in a season with 388.

2004: Named Man of Steel for second time, chosen as Super League Player of the Year and wins Golden Boot as international player of the year.

2005: Awarded OBE in New Year's Honours list.

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