Former Saints star Burrell discusses his cross-code switch

Luther Burrell was all smiles as he signed off at Franklin's Gardens with a try and a win in May 2019Luther Burrell was all smiles as he signed off at Franklin's Gardens with a try and a win in May 2019
Luther Burrell was all smiles as he signed off at Franklin's Gardens with a try and a win in May 2019
Former Saints centre Luther Burrell has been outlining just how tough it has been to cross codes following his switch to Warrington Wolves.

Burrell signed off in trademark fashion at Franklin's Gardens in May 2019, scoring on his final appearance at the ground, for Saints against Worcester Warriors.

It was a special way to bring the curtain down on a special seven years in black, green and gold.

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Burrell enjoyed plenty of success after moving to Saints from Sale Sharks in 2012, playing a key role in the sensational double-winning season of 2013/14.

Burrell in action for Warrington WolvesBurrell in action for Warrington Wolves
Burrell in action for Warrington Wolves

But he finally decided it was time for a new challenge last year, jumping from union to league as he linked up with the Wolves.

The 32-year-old played both codes during his teenage years in Huddersfield.

But it was not an easy task to move back to league after so long in union, a sport in which he represented England in 15 Test matches between 2014 and 2016.

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"I've followed the sport and never switched off from it, so I had a good knowledge coming back and it definitely has helped," Burrell told Sky Sports' Golden Point podcast.

"But the one thing I said to people in the interviews when I was coming over and the trainers is that it's not going to be a straightforward transition for me.

"The likes of Sonny Bill Williams, who is the most modern player to have done it, he was playing rugby league several years ago and has kind of dipped in and out. Whereas my last game was 19 years old to not playing again until I was 30.

"With rugby league, the tackle management is completely different to rugby union - it's all a wrestle and about slowing that play-the-ball down.

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"There are so many intricacies to rugby union around the ruck and the set plays. It's beginning to get more and more like American football in terms of each line-out play, you've got a set routine and will do your first five phases off a set play whether that's 22 metres from your try-line or the oppositions.

"Then you've got your scrum plays and it's very rare throughout a game of rugby union you'll get a repetitive play.

"What I've found with rugby league is the plays are repetitive, but it's about which team is going to run the best lines and run those plays the best, who's going to make sure each pass is on the money."

Burrell has featured as a back row as well as in centre at Warrington.

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And he said: "One thing I've picked up which I was very surprised at from my team-mates, they all said to me in training whether I was on the left or the right, it doesn't matter which side I could carry the ball in both hands and comfortably pass left to right or right to left.

"What I've kind of brought in with some of the lads who are at Warrington around the fringe is, I'll just walk a couple of lengths chucking the ball and I aim to have 100 touches either before or post-training every day.

"I think it's very specific at the moment where your right centre has to stay on the right side and pass off that, whereas I'm saying what if there is an opportunity where this guy breaks the line, the full-back is coming across and he needs to pass right to left but throws a wobbler because he hasn't been practising it much?

"It's not every centre, but something I've picked up on is they very rarely practise that all-round skillset."

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Burrell played three times for Warrington in 2019 and made a further five appearances in 2020 before the Super League season was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But challenges are nothing new for the player, who overcame some tough times early in his career to flourish at Saints.

"It hasn't been plain sailing for me at all," Burrell said. "I've had a really tough ride and it's been a rollercoaster of a career so far.

"It came to a point where I was considering 'What am I going to do here?' I was 24, I'd put my heart and soul into this, and I didn't know how I was going to get myself back into the team.

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"But I stuck at it and it took for that player to get injured, and I just thought 'there is no way I'm giving up this jersey'.

"I'd left school with GCSEs but no A-levels, this is my life and I'm thinking 'If I don't make this work, I'm on the road doing tarmac next year'. I didn't look back and the remainder of my career has been great."