It was Tuesday afternoon when the email came through to Luther Burrell’s solicitor: ‘Contract terminated by mutual consent.’ That was the moment when the weight lifted off his shoulders. No more pretending. He was set free to return to the sport he loves.
Burrell has endured an ill-fated year in rugby league with Warrington. He told his bosses last month that he wanted to leave and has since been caught in a series of complex contract negotiations.
Team-mates were left asking questions: ‘Where’s Luther? Has he gone AWOL?’ Now he is finally ready to break his silence and has a message for potential suitors.
Luther Burrell has endured an ill-fated, complicated year in rugby league with Warrington
He told his bosses last month that he wanted to leave and negotiations have been complex
‘It’s just over a year since I joined Warrington and, during that time, I’ve played a handful of games,’ he says. ‘Before that I was playing 30 games a year for Northampton in the biggest competitions.
‘There has to come a point where you look at the situation honestly and ask: how much more can you take of this? I was doing everything I could but the opportunities just weren’t presenting themselves. I was at a club with massive budgets and a lot of depth and they didn’t want to gamble on a guy who had just come over from union. It just didn’t work out.
‘The paperwork has all been signed. That’s it. I’m a Warrington fan now. I’m a proud man and it hurts me that it didn’t work out, because I believed I was good enough. I’ve missed playing 80 minutes of rugby with my boys. Adverse times. Winning. Losing. Bouncing back.
‘I thank Warrington for the opportunity — they invested a lot in me — and I thank the boys there who have always had my back. But now it’s time to move on.
‘I want to come back to union. I’m so hungry. I’ll go on to the open market and hopefully someone will be fishing for a centre; 12 or 13. Just give me the call and I’ll be there tomorrow morning. My boots are already in the car.’
Now he is finally ready to break his silence and has a message for potential suitors
A Warrington press release announcing Burrell’s departure is imminent. He has spent the quiet days training by himself. He has been hitting personal bests in the gym and has been on long runs through the Pennines. Months were spent adapting his shape and skills to the demands of league and he says he is in the shape of his life.
‘Even though I wasn’t in the team, I was still sticking around to do my extras after the team run,’ he says. ‘It would have been easy to just jump in the car, drive home and sulk. I was training every week knowing I probably wasn’t going to be in the team, so I had to adjust my thought process.
‘There’s a perception that union guys aren’t as fit but I didn’t want to let them use that excuse. It became a case of getting the most out of every single session and being the fittest I can be. No stone was left unturned and I became one of the fittest guys there.
‘For 12 months, all I’ve been doing is running hard lines breaking tackles, so I’ve improved that element of my game. I’ve not played a lot of rugby, so I’m fit, fresh and lean. I’m 12kg lighter than my union weight and my body fat is the lowest it’s ever been. I made sure I was ready for the call. I’ve been ready every single day and I’m still ready now. If somebody says, ‘Luther, we need a centre’, then boom, I’m ready.’
But Burrell will potentially be returning to a difficult climate. He may have 15 England caps to his name but Premiership clubs’ purses have been tightened and most recruitment is complete.
Burrell’s potential return to the Premiership could be difficult with club’s finances lower
‘I realise the climate’s tough and there’s not long left in the season,’ he says. ‘And I know how much talent there is in the league. I record all the games and watch them back. I’ve loved seeing Rory Hutchinson tear up trees in the midfield. I watch the games and wish I was out there, where my bread’s buttered. Union is my love and will always be my love.
‘I sit there critiquing the games, thinking, ‘I’d have scored that!’ I still back myself to make a huge difference at any club. Somewhere in England would be perfect but I’m open-minded. I’d love to play for the BaaBaas next month. That would be amazing, wouldn’t it? If it’s France, Japan or America then happy days.
‘Premiership clubs might see it as a gamble but I don’t think it is. I’ve not forgotten how to play union in the space of a year. My final Saints game was against Ben Te’o, who was in the England squad and I scored with my first touch. I’m in better shape now but if I have to go and prove myself somewhere on a trial for a couple of weeks, then I’m prepared to do that.’
Burrell, who has his England cap No 1360 tattooed across his chest, added: ‘If I could predict the future, my decision to come to league might have been different.
‘It’s been rocky for sure. I’ve had help from my life coach called Tim Martin, who has been a massive positive influence in my life. Mentally it’s been the most challenging year of my career but you can’t look back and beat yourself up. If you don’t try it then you’ll never know.
‘I’ve just got to keep moving forwards. Whether it’s being dropped for the 2015 World Cup, or whatever, my career has been bumpy. This is just another hurdle. Sometimes you need to just appreciate what you’ve got.
‘Yeah, I might not have had 100 caps or been on a Lions tour, but I’m the only lad from Huddersfield to represent his country 15 times and win the Premiership. I keep the match ball from my England debut and my medals on a shelf at home and I see them every night before I go to bed. I’m proud and I still want to add more to that collection.’