Sonny Bill Williams says switching from rugby league to rugby union isn’t the challenge that many make out and predicts Sam Burgess can shine at the Rugby World Cup.
All Blacks centre Williams and England counterpart Burgess – who were locking horns in the NRL last year – join Israel Folau as high-profile code-hoppers who will attract plenty of interest at the tournament beginning in England in two weeks.
While world class fullback Folau is a key performer for the Wallabies, Williams and Burgess have plenty to prove if they are to start at inside centre for their respective teams.
Veteran midfielder Ma’a Nonu stands in the way of Williams, who admits injuries have reduced his impact in rugby union this year.
Burgess, one of Great Britain’s finest league forwards, was a contentious selection in the eyes of some former England internationals because of his lack of rugby instinct.
Nine months after his first game for Bath, he made a Test debut against France to mixed reviews.
Williams advised Burgess to ignore criticism and keep it simple in his bid to make the same transition he did – from a league forward to a union back.
“In rugby, you’re looking for space and things like that but I don’t see the games as too different,” Williams said.
“I used to think they’re two totally different games but they’re quite similar actually.
“As long as you have that focus, that ability and that mental aptitude, no matter what sport you play, you’re going to make it.”
Williams’ first rugby union stint from 2008-12 included a Super Rugby title with the Chiefs and a role in the All Blacks’ 2011 World Cup triumph.
After capturing the 2013 NRL Premiership during two seasons with the Sydney Roosters, he returned to rugby late the following year and has lifted his tally of Test caps to 26.
The 30-year-old believes his progress shone a light for Burgess and Folau.
The latter stood out at all levels of league but struggled in a season of AFL in 2012 before joining the 15-man code.
“It’s cool to see that my coming over 6-7 years ago to rugby, and being able to make it, a lot of these guys have seen that,” Williams said.
“It’s kind of opened that door, to know that it’s not too far out of reach. It’s good to see them make their way through and do their own thing.”