RUGBY LEAGUE IN THE RING: SIX NRL PLAYERS WHO’VE TAKEN A SWING AT BOXING

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With boxing bouts between Melbourne Storm’s Nelson Asofa-Solomona and former Parramatta Eels and Manly Sea Eagles player Darcy Lussick, and Cronulla’s Paul Gallen and UFC fighter Mark ‘The Super Samoan’ Hunt on the cards, the worlds of NRL and boxing have once again collided. We take a look at some of the other NRL players who’ve made the switch from the rugby pitch to the boxing ring.

1. Anthony Mundine

Gallen is currently the most active NRL star on the boxing scene, but the most prominent of the past two decades has undoubtedly been former St George five-eighth Anthony Mundine.

The son of Australian fight legend Tony Mundine, ‘The Man’ – a self-appointed nickname – sensationally ditched chip-and-chases for jabs and hooks in 2000. Mundine junior’s outlandish public statements have often overshadowed his achievements in the ring, but he won 48 of 58 pro bouts and claimed world titles in three different weight divisions.

Mundine’s last fight was against kickboxing icon John Wayne Parr in November last year, losing in a controversial split decision after starting as a slight $2 outsider.

2. Sonny Bill Williams

Cross-code megastar Sonny Bill Williams, a close friend of Mundine’s, had seven professional fights between 2009 and 2015, racking up a 7–0 record (three wins by KO).

Like many footy players who venture into the ring, SBW has been derided for the questionable calibre of the opponents he has taken on. A unanimous-decision win over South African veteran Frans Botha in 2013 – in which Williams was a $1.72 favourite – was highly contentious.

A mouth-watering showdown between Williams and Gallen, regular adversaries on the NRL pitch, has teased punters in recent years without ever materialising.

3. John Hopoate

The notorious John Hopoate began his pro boxing career in 2006, the year after his incident-stained 209-match tenure in the NRL ended.

‘Hoppa’ has a modest 12–7 record, and his $4.50 underdog price in a 2019 bout with Gallen – where he was KO’d in the second round – was a reflection of his lack of conditioning. To his credit, however, he has fought the likes of Oliver McCall and Shane Cameron, and defeated Bob ‘The Big Bear’ Mirovic twice.

4. Solomon Halumono

One of the more illustrious rugby league boxers, powerful heavyweight Solomon Haumono – a former teammate of Hopoate’s at Manly and good pals with Mundine – crafted a 24–4–2 record in 2000–17, winning 21 fights by knockout.

5. Garth Wood

Garth Wood played 25 NRL games for South Sydney and Balmain before becoming the inaugural winner of The Contender Australia, which led to a bout with Mundine in 2010 and a stunning fifth-round knockout upset. Wood went down to Mundine by unanimous decision four months later.

6. Monty Betham

Widely feared Warriors enforcer Monty Betham’s venture into pro boxing in 2007–15 garnered a 7–1 record (five wins by KO) and included TKO victories over former All Black Carlos Spencer and ex–England international cricketer Adam Hollioake.

The best of the rest

Other high-profile NRL stars with briefer boxing stints include long-serving Origin winger Blake Ferguson, who lost his only pro bout to Luke Turner in 2013, and Warriors and Kiwis try-scoring machine Manu Vatuvei, who took just 28 seconds to knock out ‘The Brown Buttabean’ David Letele in his 2018 debut but hung up the gloves due to the discovery of a brain cyst.

Diminutive rival playmakers and bad boys Chris Sandow and Todd Carney squared off in a sloppy-but-memorable slugfest on the Gallen–Paulo undercard in 2016, which ended in a majority draw.

While few NRL players have reached dizzy heights in boxing, there’s something pretty entertaining about watching them take on a new sport—particularly in these sports-starved times. If you’re looking to have a punt, Sportsbet has NRL tips and betting options available on boxing match futures, including Paul Gallen v Mark Hunt and Darcy Lussick v Nelson Asofa-Solomona. Bet now.

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