Quinnell sees the best in both worlds

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The Independent Online
On Friday night Scott Quinnell, Richmond's expensive cross-code signing from Wigan, decided to go back to Central Park. Three months after leaving Lancashire the lure of the rugby league kingpins was too great to resist.

This was not the reversing of a disconcerting trend caused by a number of league's finest defecting to the rival code. Quinnell was merely taking some of his union team-mates to watch Wigan play Leeds.

After the initial fanfare which greeted the launch of Super League, union has poached the headlines despite being in summer recess. Quinnell, Jim Fallon, Richard Webster, Rowland Phillips, Kevin Ellis, Stuart Evans, Dai Young and Scott Gibbs have all followed Jonathan Davies back to union; Martin Offiah, Frano Botica and John Devereux are to play both codes and Va'aiga Tuigamala and Iestyn Harris are among those reputed to be trying to do the same.

The uncertainty surrounding England's international future has not dissuaded clubs from snapping up big-money signings. The momentum, it appears, is with rugby union. So does league face a troubled future? Quinnell, for one, does not believe so. He returned to Wigan this week not only to call in on old pals. He headed up the M6 because he richly enjoys league.

"There is a worry for league that the current exodus will damage the game. But I don't think so," Quinnell said. "League has a strong base up north and has had for 100 years. The departures are mainly union converts going "home" now the walls of amateurism have been knocked down. The vast majority of league players are born and bred league and want to remain in the game. Look at the likes of Simon Haughton, Rob Smyth and Kris Radlinski, to name but three, and tell me league has a bleak future.

"Summer Super League has been a great success and will be even better next year when the players will approach it fresh, rather than this season when they have had to play two campaigns back-to-back."

Quinnell points to Wigan's matches against Bath last season as proof of the appeal both codes hold in their own rights. "The matches provided a great advert for league in particular," he said. "The series showed that the two c odes can co-exist. And with St Helens and Bradford at last challenging Wigan's supremacy, League has lost that element of predictability."

Wigan's monopoly on all things silver was certainly a major contributory factor to Davies' return. "Winning is what motivates me and as I couldn't see anybody beating Wigan for at least three years, I grew restless," he admitted. "I lost the burning desire to play well."

Quinnell chose Wigan for much the same reasons. "My considerations were both the financial security being offered and the challenge of playing for the best club in a sport I had always enjoyed watching," he said. "My two years at Wigan were two years I will never forget. I have memories I will cherish for a long time.

"But for all the good times at Wigan, rugby union is the game I was brought up with. I had played it from the age of eight until I went north 13 years later. Part of the attraction of the deal Richmond offered me was that I was coming back to the sport. I would hazard a guess that guys like Scott [Gibbs], Jim [Fallon] and Jonathan [Davies] felt the same pull."

Quinnell, capped nine times by Wales, added: "If union has an attraction over league now it is that it is a worldwide sport and very marketable, whereas league is primarily a northern-based game only really played in three or four countries. It remains to be seen whether professionalism will improve union drastically. But I suspect increased fitness levels will make for a really exciting product.

"As for talk of one code by the turn of the century, which Maurice Lindsay [the RL chief executive] was suggesting towards the end of last season, I really hope that doesn't happen. I enjoy both games for what they are and feel that boiling them down into one would make for a poorer product."

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