The rumour of St Helens rugby league half-back Kyle Eastmond mooting a possible code-switch is a fun one. The fact that the club with which he has been unofficially linked is the one I play for is even more fun. Of course, it's not quite so much fun if you don't know who he is but if you ever watch rugby league, you'll know.
I watch quite a lot of Super League and admire the players hugely for their fitness levels and all-round athleticism. OK, so in our language the props aren't really props and the hookers don't actually do much hooking but still, these guys can play. The number of effective involvements that each player is expected to contribute is, when compared to rugby union, quite staggering. Naturally, we would all make more tackles and carry more ball had we no set-pieces to worry about. Wouldn't life be easy...
Well, actually, no. You try running back 10 metres every time a tackle is made. We chaps seem to have enough trouble crawling all the way back to the hindmost foot of each ruck, most of which last five seconds or so. Our defence coach here at Bath, former rugby league legend (his words, no one else's) Brad Davis, knows this and, when we're being extra naughty in training, prescribes 10 minutes of rugby league rules as a tonic to refocus and freshen the mind. "Hurray," we all cheer. "I'm Ellery Hanley," I scream before anyone else has the chance. The resemblance is so uncanny that, in my eyes, I'm the obvious choice anyway.
But these celebrations don't tend to last long. The heavier members of the team take two minutes to realise that this constant shuttling was made part of the game for a reason; the defence will be so knackered that some space is sure to be freed up for the attack. It works. If only it weren't so inappropriate I would post a video of Duncan Bell, all 20 stones of him, battling away. Of course, it's easy enough for me because I'm Ellery Hanley, but the other lads struggle.
It is sessions like these that hammer home the vast difference between our code and theirs. Then, when you watch some Super League on the television, another difference becomes clear: there aren't many monsters in rugby league. Sure, there are some hefty blokes, but no Simon Shaws, no Cencus Johnstones. The game is too fast, and static strength is largely irrelevant, so there is no room for them. Instead, the players in a rugby league team are invariably moulded toward a far more uniform shape, generally appearing somewhere between the physique of a rugby union centre and a back-row forward.
When the Great Britain rugby league team came to train here in Bath a couple of years ago, the boys could not believe how small a lot of them were. Lean and mean, yes, but menacing to look at? Not really. Then we watched them train. They were all, to a man, in incredible nick and all looked just as comfortable handling the ball as they did running it into a brick wall. But one player stood out from the rest: Eastmond, the smallest man on the field (except Lee Mears, who was on my shoulders for a better view). It's difficult to find the right adjective here, as "electric" doesn't quite do him justice. To compare him to Jason Robinson might be more fitting. The guy looked incredible.
So this shows us that while a lot of rugby league players just wouldn't fit physically into any one role – and those who did would probably take too long to learn the core skills needed to compete for position – there will always be the odd gem. With Eastmond, it's not about core skills; all scrum-halves can catch and pass. No, his strength lies beyond flick passes and the odd touch-finder; he has the sort of raw, explosive pace and power that cannot be trained into a body, no matter how hard you try. Combine these genetic gifts with a ferocious work ethic – evident every time you watch St Helens play – and what you have is a sporting phenomenon.
I can see why he'd consider a switch to union. If he looks sharp against that lot, imagine what he'd do when running at gorillas who just packed their 20th scrum. It is frightening. I don't know if the rumours are true, but I hope they are. Imagine it: Eastmond and Hanley together at Bath. It's the stuff dreams are made of.Reuse content