All three league converts will be looking to have a major impact on Rugby World Cup 2015.
The exciting trio have all won NRL titles with Melbourne, Sydney and Souths but for SBW and Sam Burgess one of the biggest challenges of their careers will be cementing a spot in their country’s respective run on XVs. Anything is possible and if they do get a chance expect them to do some damage.
When we compare their ability to play the code of Rugby Union there are imediate similarities. They are physically imposing on their opposition, both on attack and defence, and they have proven to be big-stage performers – which is a major requirement at this year’s event. Many believe this World Cup will be the toughest yet with the majority of top nations around the world likely to mount hardy challenges.
Israel Folau is the perfect example of a rugby league player turned union professional, who has been able to make his mark on the international game. He is rated as one of the most devastating backs around and he is arguably the best athlete who will feature in the 2015 tournament, so he will have a major impact, no doubt.
Now don’t get me wrong, as I have mentioned with “SBW” in a previous article, both himself and “Slamming Sam” have their doubters but if they can play to their full potential then they could stamp their own authority on the big stage, like Izzy Folau did for Australia throughout the Wallabies’ Rugby Championship triumph.
Recently backed by legendary centre Conrad Smith as being a special player with the ability to take the All Black game to another level, Sonny has an opportunity to really enhance his legacy in a positive way. Unlike his code-hopping rivals, Sonny Bill Williams will at least bring a fair amount of World Cup experience to the fold.
He has been a a part of a victorious team before and he knows what is needed to get there again. The mountain that SBW will face, if he is going to make any impact at all, will be to climb over Ma’a Nonu in the All Blacks pecking order, something I cannot see happening.
Therefore, SBW’s role will be to provide punch off the bench. If he can bust holes in tiring defences and trigger his offloading abilities late in a game then there is a great opportunity to fulfill Conrad’s expectation of him in helping the All Blacks pull out that complete performance throughout the tournament.
In contrast, Sam Burgess does not have that same experience, so for him it will be a much tougher transition to this level of rugby. We all know Burgess has the mental and physical nous to do the business – proven when he played almost the entire 2014 NRL grand final with a broken jaw.
The only question mark surrounding Sam’s game will be his lack of experience, particulary at international level. At times he has looked brilliant but he has also been caught out of position on a number of occasions playing for Bath and England. For him to really succeed at Rugby World Cup 2015 he needs to do his homework and fine tune his game to suit those players around him.
I believe his best position is 2nd five, where he can run off the likes of Owen Farrell in those inside channels, consequently providing space for the gas men out wide to exploit. England are always a tough team to beat once they have gathered momentum, so for Sam he has to help by ensuring England stay on the front foot.
Who do you believe will have the biggest impact at this year’s Rugby World Cup out of these three super stars?
My pick: Israel Folau.
Simon van Ryn, Pundit Arena