DECIDING to cross the Pennines from Leeds Carnegie to Sale Sharks was the toughest decision of Luther Burrell’s life – although he insists he had no split loyalties whatsoever last Friday night.
The 6ft 3in centre, who recently turned down a new deal at Headingley in favour of joining Sharks when his current contract runs out at the end of the season, lined up against his future employers at Edgeley Park in the crunch Aviva Premiership relegation derby clash.
And along with his crest-fallen team-mates, Burrell was left gutted at the final whistle after the hosts recorded a 15-12 victory which was cruel on the visitors, who took just a losing bonus point for their unstinting efforts.
It leaves rock-bottom Carnegie firmly mired in the relegation quicksand, with Sale virtually rubber-stamping their own safety with a win which moved them 12 points clear of their Yorkshire rivals with just five games to play.
While in the longer term, that’s good news at least for Burrell and team-mate Kearnan Myall – who will also be heading across the M62 to Sale this summer – the talented three-quarter was feverishly doing his utmost to ensure an altogether different outcome last week.
Burrell, 23, who made his debut for Carnegie as a youngster in the 2006-07 campaign, said: “For me, my duties are still with Leeds and I really wanted to win on Friday.
“Me and Kearnan spoke about it beforehand and had a coffee. We both understood our commitments with Leeds and it would have been good to put one over them.
“I did also want to show (executive director of sport) Steve Diamond that I’m a really competitive person and what sort of player I was and one he would want in his side.
“But that aside, I do want to leave on a high and the last thing I want, after coming through the ranks, is for Leeds to go down.”
On his decision to leave Leeds, he added: “It was the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make.
“I love Leeds and the city itself. It’s also a good club and the only way I sort of know is the Leeds one.
“It’s going to be a bit of a shake-up for me, but hopefully I can push on in my career.”
It’s now or never for Carnegie in their quest to perform a Lazarus-style Great Escape mission and while their performance was full of character – and no little aptitude – at Sale, costly penalties ensured they were largely the architects of their own downfall, with Halifax-born former England fly-half Charlie Hodgson rubbing salt in their wounds with a flurry of successful penalties – not for the first time.
Remedying that Achilles heel is at the top of the to-do list ahead of Sunday’s home encounter with Exeter Chiefs, with indiscipline and poor options costing them in the reverse game in Devon which saw the tryless hosts win 15-9 at Sandy Park in November, thanks to five successful penalties.
After the arrival of Chiefs, Carnegie then switch their attentions to what in all likelihood will be a do-or-die clash with big relegation rivals Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park on Saturday week and you sense anything less than a couple of wins will see the last rites being administered to their hugely disappointing campaign.
Burrell added: “We were really targeting wins against Sale, Exeter and Newcastle and to score two tries to none at Sale and not come away with the victory was absolutely frustrating.
“In the last five games against Sale, Charlie Hodgson has done exactly the same thing and we’ve been our own worst enemies. We gave away stupid penalties, which you can’t do.
“We had a couple of meetings (on Monday) and the mood is still positive. But that’s obviously going to change if we don’t do anything in our next two games, starting this weekend.
“Exeter at home is winnable, although with their run of form, we can’t underestimate them as they are a very good team who have come together well.
“We’ve got to sort out the contact area and not to give away the penalties.”