9 May 2022

Rep rugby faces player drain as overseas clubs offer the big bucks

| Tim Gavel
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Brumbies

With big money on offer in Japan, it’s getting harder to keep talent in Australia. Photo: Canberra Imaging Group.

An estimated 150 Australian soccer players were competing in overseas leagues a couple of years ago.

So many top players plying their trade beyond our shores severely impacted the game’s quality at all levels across the nation.

The same issue is beginning to infiltrate Australian rugby union as big money on offer and new competitions take their toll.

The initial introduction of Super Rugby stemmed the player drain with decent money matching that of overseas clubs.

But in the past three years, a massive gulf has opened up between contracts offered in Australia and deals with company-backed rugby clubs in Japan, French and England.

READ ALSO Stephen Larkham set to return as Brumbies coach in 2023

It’s hit every tier of Australian rugby with Canberra club players promised more to play in Japan than on basic Super Rugby contracts with the Brumbies.

At Wallaby level, the bottom line of overseas deals more than double offers in Australia. Part of the issue is the reduced salary cap with the return of the Western Force.

The gulf can be illustrated by the reported offer of $1.4 million a season to Brumbies fullback Tom Banks. The deal to play in Japan compares to an estimated $400,000 to stay on home shores.

Halfback Nic White is the latest target, while centre Irae Simone looks set to head to French club Clermont.

Flyhalf Noah Lolesio was a target for cashed-up Japanese teams but earlier this week he re-signed with Rugby Australia, turning down multiple seven-figure offers.

Nic White

Halfback Nic White. Photo: File.

Former Brumby Rory Arnold, playing in France with brother Richie, is reportedly set to sign a deal with Japanese rugby worth an estimated $4.5 million over three years.

Across three divisions, the revamped Japanese rugby competition hosts a plethora of former Brumbies and Canberra club rugby players.

James Dargaville, Isi Naisarani, Matt Lucas, Joe Tomane, Jordan Smiler, Chance Peni and Murray Douglas – all former Brumbies players – are contracted to Japanese clubs.

Uncapped Super Rugby players, but formerly part of the Brumbies Academy, are also making an impact in Japan. These include former Gungahlin Eagles Tom Haddad and Callum MacDonald.

Apart from the Arnold brothers, French rugby is littered with former Brumbies players including Tom Staniforth, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Colby Fainga’a, Tomas Cubelli, John Ulugia and Jack Whetton.

Every Australian Super Rugby club is suffering the exodus of players, many in their prime. The drain has also severely impacted New Zealand rugby.

READ ALSO For the first time, Brumbies men’s and women’s teams sport the same major sponsor

The emergence of the US league adds to the player scramble – and the headaches for Australian rugby administrators trying to keep top talent at home.

Representing the Wallabies in next year’s World Cup may keep some players on home soil but the financial carrot dangled to play in Japan is proving irresistible.

Financially, Australian rugby can’t match what’s on offer around the world. But it can provide the opportunity of a gold jumper. It remains to be seen if that’s enough.

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Excellent – perhaps this means Tim Gavel will start talking about sports that aren’t centered around balls.
For instance, I haven’t seen anything written about how Canberra’s Bec McConnell won the first two rounds of the Mountain Bike XCO World Cup. (The O in XCO stands for Olympic… is Rugby an Olympic sport? No.)

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