Most are outside backs or play-makers, naturally; this is the inherent nature of rugby. The greatest cross-code players have always been speedsters, the skill set differs the least. Some of the greatest players ever would not make this list. Names like McCaw, Johnson or Dusautoir would not make this list. Why I hear you ask? Their skill sets are exceptional for their code, but unfortunately would not translate into the rival oval ball game. Some may argue that the players named below are the best rugby players in the world, others that this is absolutely not the case! But it is only a truly ignorant person who would dare to dismiss the names on this list because their skills are inadequate on the rugby pitch.
10) Jared Warea Hargreaves: A difficult choice, however due to the amount of backs on the list, Warea Hargreaves beats James O’ Connor and Kurtley Beale onto the “Most Wanted” wish list. The Sydney Roosters enforcer will be looking forward to linking up with Sonny Bill Williams this year, however at the beginning of last season the NSW Waratahs were looking to bring him to the Super 15. Warea Hargreaves has a history in union having played in the 2007 U19 Rugby Union World Championship, so the transition would not be too difficult for him. A hard-hitting workhorse, Warea Hargreaves would provide any team with a hard to stop barreling back rower. His aggressive play on the NRL pitch makes him the perfect forward for smashing into rucks in union. In truth he would give a never-say-die attitude to an Australian rugby union outfit, which is looking a little frail psychologically. His New Zealand heritage means he would be more qualified to play for the All Blacks, and his gritty defence and route 1 ball carrying, would inevitably bring comparisons with Jerry Collins.
9) Dave Taylor: The “Coal Train” as he is known in league circles, an explosion of power, pace and outrageous skill for such a big man. Taylor is one of the biggest forwards in rugby league and yet judging by his rampaging runs and grubber kicks, which he then inevitably re-gathers, one would think he was a winger. Whilst he has a tendency to float in and out of games, Taylor’s influence, however brief, can be devastating. With extra fitness he could fit in anywhere on a rugby union pitch, a fast skillful Number 8, or maybe a cannonball centre, either way Taylor is a one of the most explosive players currently playing with an oval ball.
8) Dan Carter: Of course he was going to be on this list. The best union player in the world for the last few years, Carter could slot in anywhere in a backline in any code. His supreme kicking ability and iceman persona make him one of the most coveted players in rugby union. His running game is exceptional and would make him equally good at centre or pivot in league. Carter, like Jonathan Thurston, is a general on the pitch, dictating play and if necessary exploding into action to guide the way for his team. A supremely gifted man, who has shown he is not adverse to moving away from New Zealand, however briefly.
7) Manu Tuilagi: He has cemented himself as one of the most explosive centres in the world today. Dangerous even when standing still, Tuilagi’s incredible strength and devastating running power would turn him into a brilliant league prop as well as a centre. But for now he is the beast in England’s midfield and may well be on his way to being considered one of the best in the world. His eye for a pass, which seems to be one of the only facets of his game that he needs to work on, means he is not quite in the same class as Ma’a Nonu, but he is awfully close! Some believe his best position would be out on the wing, where he could run over smaller men and not have to worry about passing. At this stage, however, the Leicester Tigers and England seem simply to be happy that he is on the pitch.
6) Quade Cooper/Ben Barba: Even though they play in different positions, these two are hard to separate from an ‘I want one of those’ point of view. Both require a little more time to mature and solidify their phenomenal natural talent, but both would be snapped up if they went on offer in any rugby market.
Despite being knocked back by every NRL club (mainly due to salary cap restrictions) there is no doubt that Cooper is a precociously talented young man, even with his well-documented self-destructing capabilities. His mercurial talent is never to be underestimated, however at this stage maturity and consistency are what is most required. His oft, dazzling feet can sometimes lead him into trouble as he steps himself to a standstill, unlike his fellow Number 6. However there is no denying that on his day Cooper and his box of tricks can fill a stadium simply by being named on the team sheet.
Ben Barba on the other hand seems to always find himself a way out of trouble, no matter how boxed in he may appear. His penchant for scoring tries and setting them up from behind his own goal line is one that frustrates and enrages opposition coaches. How do you stop Houdini? It would be complimentary to call Barba small, but his rocket propelled feet and skill under the high ball won him the Dally M Medal for the best NRL player in 2012, showing him to be not merely a flash in the pan small man. The challenge for Barba now will be to maintain his form then people will start wondering just how good he could be in the opposite code.
5) Jonathan Thurston: Thurston is not as showy as the names preceding him, nor is he as fast, but he is the consummate on field general. His no-nonsense dictation of a game has brought him several offers from rugby union clubs, all desiring the calming presence of JT. His tactical and place kicking ability put him on a par with a certain Daniel Carter of the New Zealand All Blacks. He is the sort of player who teams buy simply to build a team around, and what higher praise is there than that?
4) Israel Folau/Billy Slater: The furore and vitriolic abuse that ensued after Folau switched to rugby union, instead of returning to league after his brief stint in Aussie Rules, shows how highly prized ‘Izzy’ is in rugby circles. A strong, athletic winger, with a standing jump that can embarrass most gymnasts, Folau will be a welcome relief to a Waratahs team in desperate need of some attacking spark. As ever, the Wallabies will be sniffing around, praying that Folau can show the same dead eye try finishing that saw him play representative rugby league for Queensland and Australia as a part one of the best back lines ever to be assembled on a league field. Much like Williams before him, he will show the old heads of rugby union just how useful rugby league converts can be.
Slater is widely considered to be the best fullback in rugby league ever. He is a straight-line speedster, with a deadly eye for a gap. Slater’s counter-attacking prowess means that teams have been forced to devise strategies simply to avoid kicking him the ball in space. Some would argue that with less space in union Slater would be forced into corners and cowed simply by sheer force of numbers, this is not an unreasonable argument. However with his solidity under the high ball and his exceptional running lines it is likely he would take on a Chris Ashton predator role if he ever switched codes.
3) Greg Inglis: The monolith that is GI, a wrecking ball that is faster than virtually all others on a rugby pitch. Inglis has played in every league back line position and could probably manage most of the forwards positions if he was not so devastating out wide. A giant that stands two inches taller than Sonny bill, Inglis has outpaced, out-muscled and dominated NRL defences for the last 7 years and shows no signs of stopping. His switch to fullback in the infancy of last season allowed him to throw his weight into the attacking line whenever he chose, and redefined the way a fullback can play the game. His strength and speed in defence meant that several wingers ended up dispossessed of the ball (or in several cases out cold after a line break) within metres of the line. Inglis may not be the most desired rugby player in the world, but he may well be the best.
2) Sonny Bill Williams: A close call between him and Player Number 3. Williams wins it because of his previous experience in union as well as league. Miles of print has been written about this outrageously gifted player. A hard-edged league forward turned into a hard running, line breaking, off-loading union centre. Pace and an eye for a gap make Williams one of the most perfect rugby players of either code to have ever stepped over the whitewash. His misfortune was to be born in the same era as an All Black combination that, like Williams, will be considered one of the greatest of all time. He returns to league, but fear not union fans, many believe the lure of defending the Rugby World Cup in 2015 will be too much for him to turn down.
1) Benji Marshall: So close to a brief stint in Japanese rugby union at the end of the 2012 NRL season, Marshall was promptly denied the chance by his club Wests Tigers – and understandably so. The great fear of all rugby league general mangers is that rugby union teams will steal their best players. And Marshall is one of the best. Lightning fast feet and a penchant for pulling off outrageous moves make Marshall utterly deadly on the pitch. His rise to captain of the New Zealand rugby league national team has brought a maturity to his game that makes him a general on the pitch, a general who leads by example. His trickery and guile would bring back memories of Carlos Spencer for union fans, but his consistency of performance would assure that he was more reliable than King Carlos.