Merciless NRL to pick at carcass of rugby
NRL clubs have begun picking at the carcass of a decimated Rugby Australia, knowing the 15-a-side game can no longer keep paying their elite juniors.
It was revealed in News Corp newspapers on Monday that Rugby Australia had blown $500m over the past four years and could be heading down the path of insolvency with no TV broadcast deal.
The NRL clubs are now poised to attack rugby's established stars and elite pathway rookies, who had been earmarked as future Wallabies, with Jordan Petaia, Harry Wilson and Mark Nawaqanitawase the obvious targets of multimillion-dollar raids.
"There could be a massive influx of their players," said league immortal Bob Fulton.
"Union is on its knees financially while we're getting our act together with Peter V'landys in charge."
Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart spent two weeks at the rugby union World Cup in Tokyo late last year as a guest of English coach Eddie Jones.
Unlike the old days when only a small percentage of union players were suitable to convert to league, Stuart says: "85 per cent of their players are now athletically built for the powerful and explosive style of rugby league.
"I definitely think rugby is vulnerable right now and it could become a wonderful nursery for our game. All kids want to play in a high performance sport.
"They don't care if it's league or union. They want to be on TV playing an elite competition. And with the intensity of our training, we'd turn them into even better players."
The best teenage footballer in the country in either code, 16-year-old Kings school student Joseph Suaalii, has been the centre of a tug 'o war between Rugby Australia and the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Rugby union are now no hope of signing him.
RA have signed a host of top Wallabies and under-20s stars to long-term deals, but without a lucrative broadcast deal to boost their finances beyond 2020, it's improbable they'll be able to honour every deal and players can explore options from September under the pay cut deal negotiated by RUPA.
Warriors recruitment boss Peter O'Sullivan is regarded the best scout in the business.
He discovered the likes of Greg Inglis and Israel Folau at Melbourne Storm and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Latrell Mitchell and Joseph Manu at the Roosters.
"There's always been interest in rugby players but it's definitely going to amplify," O'Sullivan said, "No question the clubs will go after their best players.
"I've always been a fan of going after their best 19 or 20-year-olds, not the established players.
"There's an Under 19's rugby competition in New Zealand which is the best I've seen anywhere in the world. That's the one we'd target and no doubt all NRL clubs will do the same."
Canberra Raiders legend Laurie Daley know the GPS rugby school competition better than most.
"I go to a lot of GPS rugby and geez there's some talented kids," he said, "You'd think all the good ones would be disillusioned with their game right now and would seriously consider rugby league opportunities. We should so the right thing and look after our own first though."
Fulton agrees with Stuart that rugby union players are more adaptable now.
In his last job at the Manly Sea Eagles, Fulton kept a close on union's best juniors.
"There is still a question mark over union forwards but their backs will adapt a lot easier than 15, 20 or even 30 years ago," he said, "They have some exceptional young athletes."
Rugby Union had in recent years been desperately trying to create more professional career pathways through their elite performance programs to stop the likes of young superstars Kalyn Ponga, Cameron Murray and Angus Crichton from jumping ship.
This financial crisis leaves them more exposed than ever before.
NRL'S ALL-RUGBY XIII (Since 2000)
1. Kalyn Ponga - Qld Schoolboys 2014
2. Semi Radradra - Fiji Under 20s, 2011
3. Dane Gagai - Qld Schoolboys, 2008
4. Clint Gutherson - NSW Schoolboys 2011
5. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck - NZ Schoolboys 2011
6. Luke Keary - Australian Schoolboys 2010
7. Cooper Cronk - Australian Schoolboys 2000
8. Nelson Asofa-Solomona - Wellington College NZ 2013
9. Damien Cook - Australian Schoolboys A 2009
10. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves - Australian Under-19 2007
11. Tyson Frizell - Australian Schoolboys 2009
12. Angus Crichton - Australian Schoolboys 2013-14
13. Cameron Murray - Captain of Newington College First XV 2015
THE NRL'S TOP 10 RUGBY TARGETS
1. JORDAN PETAIA: The shining bright star of Australian rugby, Petaia played in last year's World Cup as a teenager and is seen by many as the best player in a generation. The 20-year-old outside back inked a four-year deal with RA that takes him through to 2022, but league clubs would kill for his talents.
2. HARRY WILSON: A tremendously gifted backrower, Wilson lit up the Super Rugby season this year for Queensland with his linebreaking and offloading ability. Signed until the end of 2023 by RA, 20-year-old Wilson looks to have the skills to transfer to league as a backrower.
3. SULIASI VUNIVALU: The Melbourne Storm try-scoring whiz has signed a two-year deal with RA starting in 2021. But with rugby's finances so unclear, there is no doubt the Storm and other NRL clubs would take the winger in a heartbeat if RA is unable to guarantee the full terms of his deal.
4. MARK NAWAQANITAWASE: A 190cm fullback/winger who can run and jump like Israel Folau, Nawaqanitawase grew up playing league and at 19 has the world at his feet. He's signed through to the end of 2022 with NSW Waratahs but league clubs will view him as a game-breaking back.
5. NOAH LOLESIO: The Brumbies playmaker also grew up playing league, on the Gold Coast, and in his first year of professional rugby has shown incredible poise, leading the Canberra side to the top of the Australian conference before the COVID-19 shutdown. The 20-year-old, signed until the end of 2022, has a strong passing and kicking game.
6. WILL HARRIS: The rookie backrower had offers from Melbourne Storm and South Sydney Rabbitohs, but opted to sign with the Waratahs in 2018. The 19-year-old is already 194cm and 107kg, and capable of damage in the forwards.
7. MARIKA KOROIBETE: He may be 27, but he is a proven NRL performer having starred for Melbourne Storm and Wests Tigers before his defection to rugby in 2017. Koroibete, signed to RA until the end of 2021, was the Wallabies' star player at last year's World Cup, and will appeal to NRL teams with his power running game.
8. TOLU KOULA: The freakish Year 12 student at Newington is in the Waratahs' academy but also plays for Manly Sea Eagles' SG Ball team. Extremely quick and a proven tryscorer, Koula will have plenty of interest.
9. BILLY POLLARD: Chased by Wayne Bennett and seven other NRL coaches last year, the strong hooker instead chose to sign a four-year deal with the Brumbies. Bennett even had Pollard in the Souths' dressing room before a game in a bid to sign the Australian under-20s star. The teenager grew up playing in the back row in the North Sydney rugby league system.
10. JERAL SKELTON: The Aussie Sevens star was released from his contract and has agreed to join the Melbourne Rebels, however league rivals the Storm have spoken to the talented 20-year-old who has speed and strength.
Originally published as Merciless NRL to pick at carcass of rugby