Four NRL clubs circle Wallabies’ 2019 MVP
FOUR NRL clubs are circling reigning John Eales medallist Marika Koroibete in anticipation Rugby Australia will not be able to guarantee his $600,000 contract next year.
However, RA is already working on a counterpunch to retain their best Wallabies stars by emulating Cricket Australia's central contracting system with an elite pool of their top 30 players taking the bulk of money available and the mid-tier forced to take huge wage cuts.
Koroibete, a former NRL star, won Australia's player of the year in 2019 after starring during their World Cup campaign.
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He is signed until the end of 2021, however like other Wallabies on long-term deals, is exploring his options given RA have yet to secure a broadcast deal for next year and therefore doesn't know how much cash will be at their disposal.
Koroibete's former league clubs Melbourne Storm and Wests Tigers, as well as St George Illawarra Dragons and the Bulldogs, are in now play for the powerful winger.
Ironically, the Storm is set to lose winger Suliasi Vunivalu to rugby after this season.
Vunivalu has signed a two-year deal with RA and Queensland Reds to begin in 2021, but again due to the uncertainty surrounding rugby's finances, is keeping his options open and could stay in Melbourne or defect to the Dragons.
Melbourne has also agreed to release State of Origin centre Josh Addo-Carr so he can be closer to family in Sydney - the Dragons and Bulldogs are keen to sign the speedster.
Those two clubs are also keen on Koroibete at the right price.
However, none of the NRL sides will be able to meet Koroibete's rugby salary.
If RA can guarantee his full salary, Koroibete won't be released and will remain in the XV man code
Koroibete's manager Sam Ayoub did not return calls.
RA is giving serious consideration to a plan to cull expenses from their mid-tier players.
That would involve pooling the bulk of money to secure their top 30 stars, as CA does each year with its top 20 male players annually.
At present, RA has a pool of 40 players given national top-ups over and above their Super Rugby deals.
RA has 192 professional players, so many of the remaining athletes would be forced to accept pay cuts of more than half what they earn now.
Many believe the mid-tier of Australian rugby players is paid too much, but this is sure to irk players union RUPA.
RA would also focus significant funds into a lower tier, to keep their most talented Junior Wallabies and emerging schoolboys.
Given the worrying economic situation rugby is in, there will inevitably be severe player wage cuts, but RA is determined to hold onto their biggest names in order to sell whatever domestic competition they'll offer to the broadcast market from 2021.
A trans-Tasman tournament with New Zealand is RA's preference, and part of the proposed contracting plan would be to allow Australian players to play for Kiwi teams and vice-versa under an open market system.
That would give the unions more freedom to structure deals in the best interests of their national teams without losing stars to foreign raiders from Europe and Japan.