If an exemption is provided for NRL teams to recruit rugby talent, it’s more of a strategic move than something that will dramatically alter the landscape. NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo has confirmed that the Commission will discuss the potential move at an upcoming board meeting but has indicated that clubs won’t be given an open chequebook to take the finest players from the Wallabies or elsewhere. Young outside backs Mark Nawaqanitawase and Max Jorgensen are the players at the top of the NRL hit list and they would probably make handy acquisitions if lured to the 13-player code. However, it wouldn’t change much for the NRL given the steady stream of young talent progressing through its imbalanced yet strong pathways system at its 17 clubs. This proposed system allowing NRL exemptions for rugby talent is more about a “chequebook swinging” exercise between the executives who have been duking it out in a media slanging match for many months. The rugby side of the equation has been a lot quieter following the failure of the Eddie Jones experiment and the realization that the rivers of gold flowing from hosting a Lions tour and a couple of World Cups won’t last forever. This is a crucial time for rugby in Australia, as overpaying for talent could result in a similar situation to 15 years ago when huge sums were spent on Wendell Sailor, Mat Rogers, and Lote Tuqiri which failed to deliver long-term dividends, especially once all three headed back to league. Abdo insists that the proposed rugby poaching exemptions are nothing to do with Joseph Suaalii being lured into a code switch, which is probably totally true because the young Roosters star’s departure has not done that much damage to the NRL. Both the Roosters and Rugby League Central would prefer to keep him, but the league has an uncanny ability to swiftly find the next “next big thing” to keep fans engaged. The NRL empire is strategically striking back against the old republic in a move which will hinder rugby, even if it doesn’t result in more than a handful of Wallabies candidates jumping ship. At the very least, the increased possibility of an NRL club having a loophole to sign rugby talent will drive up the asking price of rising stars like Nawaqanitawase and Jorgensen. As a result, their agents wouldn’t be unhappy with the recent media coverage around those two being in the sights of NRL clubs. Rugby Australia called Angus Crichton’s bluff when word leaked out about his high asking price to return to the code he played as a schoolboy. It’s going to be harder to do so with existing Wallabies talent, particularly Nawaqanitawase and Jorgensen, when there are very few players of any profile in the rugby fold who will generate interest and victories as the team tries to restore lost luster from the short-lived Calamity Jones coaching tenure. The poor old rugby forwards will be left in the lurch again, not even the most rat-cunning of agents will try to play the NRL card when negotiating new deals for their clients. It’s always been extremely hard for players on either side of the rugby divide to successfully switch. In the modern era, young talent that has an option in each code usually chooses one code over the other well before they finish high school. Ricky Stuart, there were many more struggled in the league ranks like Tony Darcy, Brett Papworth, and Garrick Morgan. The best young talent that has a foot in each camp usually chooses one code over the other well before they finish high school. Rugby’s major disadvantage is when compared with league in Australia. There are so many more professionals, fringe benefits at the 16 Australian clubs for a teenage prodigy, and their chances of winning Tests on an ongoing basis will be a lot stronger. The irony of it all is that Abdo, who grew up in South Africa where rugby is king and league is nothing more than a novelty, is now trying to formulate a plan which will ultimately result in the opposite scenario being true in Australia.

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