Wallabies coach Dave Rennie is resigned to losing star winger Marika Koroibete, with the code-hopper set to join Robbie Deans’ Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan in 2022.
Rugby Australia is still under the assumption the prized-winger will head offshore at year’s end as the spectre of Japan’s Yen becomes real.
Koroibete was offered a four-year, $3 million contract by Panasonic last year but failed to gain an early release. Even still, he is expected to leave at year’s end on a $1 million per season deal after a blistering start to 2021.
And while new Reds recruit Suliasi Vunivalu will offset his departure to an extent, the two-time NRL premiership winner with the Storm will take time readjusting to the game.
Indeed, it wasn’t lost on Rennie that the try-scoring machine “played the ball on the ground” last week against the Force despite also showing his size and skill with ball-in-hand.
Yet, Koroibete’s pending departure will be felt immediately with the former NRL star well and truly one of the premier wingers in the world and, arguably, Australia’s best player full stop.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie is resigned to losing gun winger Marika Koroibete to Japan. Photo: Getty ImagesSource:AFP
Koroibete became the first specialist winger to claim the John Eales Medal in 2019. But on the evidence of his start to the season he has taken his game to greater heights in 2021.
While he might not feature at the top of the tryscorers list because of the Rebels’ tactics of accumulating points via the tee, the Fijian-born flyer is at the top of every list of metrics.
He has easily beaten more defenders than anyone in Super Rugby AU (22), is second (eight) on clean breaks, tops the metres carried and remarkably has the most offloads (eight) too.
But more than the stats, it’s the effectiveness of every touch of the ball and thundering tackle that the 28-year-old is pulling off which has turned heads in 2020.
“I agree, he’s been fantastic, phenomenal,” Rennie told reporters in Sydney on Thursday, where he’s spent the week running his eye over the winless Waratahs.
“There’s been a couple of games he’s played this year where he’s been the best player on the field and you’ve only got to reflect back to the Bledisloe Cup game in Brisbane. He was sensational that day.”
In a concerning sign for Australian and New Zealand Rugby though, the Japanese Top League threatens to not just see Koroibete head offshore, but copious others.
He’s not the only star in sight, with All Black Damian McKenzie another understood to be in Japan’s sights with players able to earn three times what they would in Australia.
Australia’s Marika Koroibete scores during the Wallabies’ epic draw against the All Blacks in Wellington on October 11, 2020. (Photo by Marty MELVILLE / AFP)Source:AFP
Rennie admitted Rugby Australia are long odds at keeping the in-demand winger and painted a grim picture about the challenges the governing body faces in keeping its talent.
An RA source confirmed Koroibete was all but gone.
“We’d love to keep him but that’s the challenges we face,” Rennie said.
“[The] Japan market is just going berserk, it’s not just the elite but some fringe guys and guys who would be battling away in Super Rugby over here can earn three or four times what they would be paid.
“That’s why, I guess, we’ve got to make the Wallaby jersey something the guys are desperate to get.
“So, whether we can afford to hang on to guys like Marika, that’s the question. If any, through COVID, there’s less resource around that and as contracts are coming through, the guys are getting less, not more.”
2019 John Eales Medal Winner Marika Koroibete is expected to sign with Japanese club Panasonic in 2021. Photo: AAPSource:AAP
Koroibete is likely to feature again for the Wallabies in 2021 before linking up with his Japanese side later this year, but with just 34 Tests to his name he won’t qualify for the ‘Giteau Law’s’ 60 caps, seven years of service criteria.
A tweak in the eligibility laws in 2020 as a result of the pressures of COVID could see him picked going forward, but as Rennie pointed out on Thursday it’s something he doesn’t want to exploit for fear of devaluing Super Rugby.
“Currently that law means we can bring a couple in,” Rennie said.
“As I’ve mentioned all the time, we’re reluctant to bring wholesale numbers in. One it won’t be great for our competition and our depth here.
“[Secondly], we want people to be able to compete apples with apples. A guy playing in France, it’s hard to measure how well they’re going, how well they’re conditioned and so on. So I can’t see any change in that.”
Meanwhile, Rennie is preparing to announce a 40-man training squad on Sunday that will link up on the Gold Coast in April.
Young Reds forward Seru Uru, who has been given a crack in his preferred spot at No. 8 ahead of Wallabies young gun Harry Wilson, is expected to be one new member in the squad.
Originally published asWallabies set to lose superstar in $3m move
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