Newcastle Falcons have lured Luther Burrell back to rugby union – the former England centre signing a two-year deal with the Gallagher Premiership new boys.
Burrell returns to the 15-man code after a year with Super League’s Warrington Wolves, the 32-year-old having scored four tries during his 15 England caps.
Boasting 150 Premiership appearances and a further 52 in Europe, the Yorkshireman won the Premiership title, European Challenge Cup final and Premiership Rugby Cup final during his seven years at Northampton Saints, having previously played for Leeds and Sale Sharks.
“Luther has expressed a real appetite to return to rugby union, he’s in fantastic shape and it’s great that we have been able to secure his signature,” said Newcastle Falcons director of rugby, Dean Richards.
“His calibre speaks for itself in terms of the trophies he has won and the impact he has had in the game, and we’re really looking forward to welcoming him into our squad.
“He hits some super lines in midfield, gets over the gain line and his link-up play will really bring the best out of the players around him. We have some outstanding young talent within our squad, but Luther just brings that experienced head which will help those guys to develop.”
Excited by the opportunity to join the Gallagher Premiership’s most northerly outfit, Burrell said: “It didn’t take any selling at all, to be honest.
“I met Dean Richards for a bite to eat, I could see straightaway he’s just a totally straightforward bloke, and that’s how you get the best out of me. I left that meeting, got straight on the phone and said I wanted to sign for Newcastle, and it was all sorted out remarkably quickly from there.
“I’ve not shied away from the fact I want to be back in rugby union, so to get signed up with a quality club like Newcastle is fantastic. I’m just so excited about the whole thing, and can’t wait to get stuck in when I join the squad on September 28.”
No stranger to Kingston Park Stadium after playing there on numerous occasions, the centre said: “It’ll be nice to be there as a member of the home team, because the bus trips for the away side are dreaded by most clubs!
“I’m looking forward to playing on that and really helping us to stamp our home advantage, and I can say as a visiting player it’s one of the toughest places to go and win. I’m now on the other side of that, and I can’t begin to tell you how nice it feels.”
Looking forward to working with a management group which includes Richards, Dave Walder, Nick Easter, Micky Ward, Scott MacLeod and Mark Laycock, Burrell said: “I totally buy into the coaching staff that Dean has at the Falcons, and it was definitely a factor in my decision.
“I just like the honesty around where they see me, and that’s what I need. I don’t want to be the guy on the sidelines, I want to be showing my worth to the group, and I feel like I can make a big contribution here.
“I’ve not come to have a season ticket and be sat in the stand, so I’ll be working as hard as I can to get out on the pitch. It just feels like a nice fit, and with the fast playing surface at Kingston Park and the type of players they have in the squad, I can really see it clicking.”
Glad that he tried his hand at rugby league following his stint with Warrington Wolves, he said: “I’m someone who always likes to challenge themselves, and I don’t believe in living in a comfort zone.
“Playing rugby league is something I’d always wanted to do, and in some ways it has definitely helped me. My endurance, fitness levels and aspects of my skill set are definitely better as a result of my time with Warrington, and rugby league guys really pride themselves on doing the unseen work. I’ve bought into that, I’ve got a better engine and I’m now able to apply myself more effectively around the field.
“I was a lot heavier when I played union the first time round – somewhere around 112kg – and I dropped down to around 101-ish. I’m now up to 104kg, which I think is going to be my ideal size, and I’m just excited about bringing that aspect of my game into union.
“I’ve got no regrets about going over to league, because it was the fresh challenge that I needed at the time. I’ll look back on it as a positive experience - I wanted to test myself, and I think I’ll come back as a better player for it.
“It just makes sense to choose Newcastle, because ultimately I’m a northern boy. I’m not a Geordie, admittedly, but it’s great to have that bit of northern culture in the Premiership and just being around a good group of lads. I know some of the boys there, which makes things a lot simpler for me, and I can’t wait to hit the ground running.”
Burrell becomes the Falcons’ seventh signing of the summer, following the acquisitions of Matias Orlando (Jaguares), Marco Fuser (Benetton), Louis Schreuder (Sharks), Pete Lucock (Doncaster), Tom Penny (Harlequins) and Iwan Stephens (Leeds Rhinos RL), with the club also welcoming back England back-rower Mark Wilson from his season-long loan at Sale Sharks.
The Falcons will begin their Gallagher Premiership campaign on the weekend of November 20-22, having been promoted following an unbeaten season in the Greene King IPA Championship. The Kingston Park side won every single one of their games, and were 18 points clear when the league was brought to a premature close in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.