Rugby raid: NRL players could be targeted by new rugby franchise in Western Sydney

Rugby’s strategic push into NRL heartland could be about to take off with moves to introduce a Pacific Island Super Rugby team into Western Sydney.

No formal talks have taken place yet but Rugby Australia is ready to pounce and host a team in Sydney’s most populated suburbs after New Zealand “shafted” the Pacific Islanders by reneging on their promise to allow them to join the Kiwi competition.

The Pacific Rugby Players (PRP) union has approached Australia about setting up in Sydney and the move has already been enthusiastically welcomed, with Wallaby Matt Toomua predicting it will lead to fresh raids on NRL players with Pacific Island heritage.

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“There’s many reasons why it hasn’t happened but in terms of pure desire and wanting it to happen, from a player’s point of view we would absolutely love it,” said Toomua, whose father is Samoan.

“I think it would bring a new flavour to the game, we’ve seen the success of the Fijian Drua in NRC and we’ve seen more and more Fijian guys, particularly in the NRL.

“I think it would be smart strategically to get some of those guys playing in our competition because we could probably poach a few as well.”

Rugby Australia has already been recruiting NRL players for years with Melbourne Storm’s Fijian winger Suliasi Vunivalu the next big name preparing to switch codes while the Waratahs and Wallabies have started playing regular matches in rugby league’s traditional stomping grounds.

Melbourne Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu will swap codes at the end of the season.Source:Getty Images

Long overdue, the push for a Pacific Island team has gathered fresh momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic though talks for a new trans-Tasman competition remain on hold because of New Zealand’s stubborn approach to negotiating.

Formidable on the field but paper tigers in the boardroom, New Zealand’s Kiwis-first style has left them increasingly isolated and squealing after being stripped as host of this year’s Rugby Championship and replaced by Australia.

Even now, the Kiwis are making hollow threats to boycott the last round on December 12 in the unlikely event their players have to serve two weeks’ quarantine on returning home — which would include Christmas Day.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster told the New Zealand radio he had even been approached by a player refusing to represent his country if it meant missing Christmas with his family.

“I‘ve had one player that has barged in my door and said ’I’m not playing at Christmas’,” Foster said.

An approach by the Pacific Rugby Players union to set up a team in Sydney has been welcomed enthusiastically.Source:Getty Images

“We‘ve got a whole lot of players saying ’what is happening — where are we at?’

“The players also need to make sure they have a decent period at the end of the year ready for what is looking like another early start and big campaign next year.”

While Rugby Australia has publicly supported New Zealand’s request to have the date changes, the boycott threats from highly-paid players has not been welcomed by everyone.

Plenty of professional athletes — including cricketers and tennis players — travel to New Zealand each year and spend Christmas away from their families while doctors, nurses, police and emergency services frequently work during holidays.

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Originally published asNew rugby franchise could plunder NRL heartland

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