The 15 rugby stars NRL clubs are circling as savage move threatens to cripple RA forever

The NRL looks set to green light salary cap exemptions for players recruited from rival codes, which shapes as a hammer blow to Rugby Australia.

The savage move from the NRL threatens to cripple their perceived rival, with rugby union an already struggling code that has been on its knees in Australia for years.

This century it’s been NRL stars getting poached by RA, with Joseph Suaalii the most recent example but the 20-year-old has already vowed to return to the Roosters when his $5 million contract ends.

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NRL stars Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Israel Folau, Benji Marshall, Mat Rogers, Lote Tuqiri, Wendell Sailor and Brad Thorn all switched codes to the 15-man game.

But the tables could be about to turn dramatically, with NRL clubs already lining up to take advantage of the proposed salary cap loophole.

Wallabies winger Mark Nawaqanitawase met with the Roosters this week, while Max Jorgensen is another on a long list of players who have the skills to make a cross-code switch.

NRL clubs have welcomed the idea, while Sea Eagles veteran Aaron Woods believes caps exemptions should only be available to bottom eight clubs in a bid to even the competition.

“If they want to decimate rugby union, I think they can do it in a couple of years,” rugby league great Benny Elias told foxsports.com.au.

“Rugby is on its knees at the moment. If we can pick the fruits of rugby, why wouldn’t we go for it? I think it’s a terrific idea.”

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo confirmed the exemptions are under consideration, but said clubs would only be allowed to poach “one or two players” from rival codes.

“Would salary cap relief be potentially used? Yes. We want the best athletes playing our game,” Abdo said.

“It will be delicate and it will be about making sure there’s an opportunity for all clubs on an equal basis to have one or two talented players that they recruit potentially from other codes around the world.

“Growth is on our agenda, so while our primary focus is developing rugby league talent through our own pathways, we’re also open to attracting (other athletes) and potentially in some cases returning to league from other codes.”

NRL bosses Peter V’landys and Andrew Abdo could be about to sink the boot into Rugby Australia.Source: Getty Images

Eels general manager of football Mark O’Neill backed the move that he said would help neutralise the ‘threat’ of rugby’s raids on NRL talent.

“We have an attractive game. It’s worth exploring to make sure our game stays as strong as it possibly can be,” O’Neill said.

“I think it’s definitely a threat and we need to consider that accordingly. There’s a level of threat that comes with it, the level of threat at the moment might be low now that Suaalii is gone and there doesn’t appear to be anyone following but that will change from time to time and the threat will increase.

“I do support any innovative way and ideas that improve this scenario for NRL clubs.”

Super Rugby crowds have been dwindling for years and after the Wallabies’ disastrous World Cup campaign, Australian rugby is at its lowest ebb.

The opportunity for players to earn a pay rise and play in front of packed stadiums is set to pique the interests of a host of rugby stars.

Here foxsports.com.au has compiled a list of 15 rugby union players with the skill set to make a successful switch to the NRL.

Mark Nawaqanitawase

Age: 23

Position: wing, fullback

Current club: NSW Waratahs

NRL comparison: Israel Folau

Nawaqanitawase grew up playing rugby league in Sydney before switching to union and the 192cm speedster would be tough to contain in the NRL.

Nawaqanitawase made his Test debut last year and the Waratahs winger was one of the Wallabies’ best players at the World Cup.

Mark Nawaqanitawase at the World Cup. GettySource: Getty Images

Max Jorgensen

Age: 19

Position: wing, fullback

Current club: NSW Waratahs

NRL comparison: Dylan Edwards

The son of former Roosters and Penrith winger Peter Jorgensen was picked in the Wallabies’ train-on squad this year but injury ruled him out of the World Cup.

The 19-year-old was on the radar of the Roosters and Bulldogs before signing a two-year deal with Rugby Australia until the end of 2024.

Max Jorgensen is the son of former Roosters and Penrith winger Peter Jorgensen. GettySource: Getty Images

Isaac Lucas

Age: 24

Position: centre, wing, fullback

Current club: Ricoh Black Rams (Japan)

NRL comparison: Reece Walsh

Lucas hails from one of the most talented football families in Australia, with all four sons playing rugby professionally.

Lucas was on track for a Wallabies debut at just 21 before Covid struck and he left the Queensland Reds to play in Japan, which made him ineligible for national selection.

Isaac Lucas of Ricoh Black Rams Tokyo. GettySource: Getty Images

Mack Hansen

Age: 25

Position: wing, fullback

Current club: Connacht (Ireland)

NRL comparison: Reuben Garrick

After being groomed as a five-eighth at the Brumbies, Hansen struggled to crack a starting spot before making a wildly successful switch to Irish rugby.

Hansen joined Connacht and reinvented himself as a winger, and less than 12 months later made his Test debut for Ireland.

Andrew Kellaway

Age: 28

Position: centre, wing, fullback

Current club: Melbourne Rebels

NRL comparison: James Tedesco

This late bloomer is one of the most exciting players in Australian rugby and in recent years has made the Wallabies fullback jersey his own.

Kellaway scored the second most tries (nine) in a Wallabies’ debut season and was named Rugby Australia’s 2021 Rookie of the Year.

Izaia Perese

Age: 26

Position: wing, centre

Current club: NSW Waratahs

NRL comparison: Nick Cotric

Perese grew up playing rugby league in Brisbane before accepting a rugby scholarship at the Anglican Church Grammar school alongside Kalyn Ponga.

Perese started his professional football career with the Queensland Reds before joining the Broncos, where he played two NRL games in 2019, and then returning to rugby.


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Suliasi Vunivalu

Age: 27

Position: wing

Current club: Melbourne Rebels

NRL comparison: Himself

Vunivalu was a try-scoring machine for the Melbourne Storm between 2016 and 2020, crossing 86 times in 111 games, before switching codes in 2021.

Vunivalu has struggled to reach the same heights in Super Rugby, scoring 14 tries in 27 games for the Reds, but he has played seven games for Wallabies in 2022.

Len Ikitau

Age: 25

Position: centre

Current club: ACT Brumbies

NRL comparison: Kotoni Staggs

This gun centre with bone-crunching defence has already played 29 Tests for the Wallabies and could absolutely leave his mark on the NRL.

Ikitau only missed out on playing at his first World Cup this year after fracturing his scapular against Argentina on the eve of the tournament.

Jordan Petaia

Age: 23

Position: centre, wing, fullback

Current club: Queensland Reds

NRL comparison: Joey Manu

Petaia was the first person born in the 2000s to play for the Wallabies and has 27 Tests appearances to his name.

Petaia could be a star centre in the NRL and with time develop into a genuinely dangerous ball-playing fullback.


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Tom Wright

Age: 26

Position: wing, fullback

Current club: ACT Brumbies

NRL comparison: Himself

Wright grew up playing rugby league in Sydney and in 2018 made his NRL debut for the Sea Eagles where he played five games.

Wright then defected to rugby in 2019 and joined the Brumbies where he has shined and earned 23 Tests for the Wallabies.

Hunter Paisami

Age: 25

Position: centre

Current club: Queensland Reds

NRL comparison: Justin Olam

Paisami is a dangerous ball-runner but the hallmark of his game is his defence and could produce a highlight reel of rib-ticklers in the NRL.

Paisami has made 24 appearances for the Wallabies since 2020 but injury ruled him out of the World Cup this year.

Tom Banks

Age: 29

Position: wing, fullback

Current club: ACT Brumbies

NRL comparison: Scott Drinkwater

Banks has speed to burn and 87 Super Rugby appearances to his name in stints at the Queensland Reds and ACT Brumbies.

Banks has played 18 Tests for the Wallabies since 2018 but has fallen down the pecking order in recent years.

Jock Campbell

Age: 28

Position: wing, fullback

Current club: Queensland Reds

NRL comparison: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad

A strong running outside back who has played 63 games for the Queensland Reds since making his Super Rugby debut in 2019.

Campbell earned Wallabies selection in 2022 and has four Tests to his name, but missed out on World Cup selection this year.

Rob Valetini

Age: 27

Position: backrow

Current club: ACT Brumbies

NRL comparison: David Fifita

This hulking backrower who stands 193cm and weighs 113kg is a dangerous ball-runner who would play lock in the NRL.

Valetini made his Super Rugby debut for the Brumbies in 2018 and is now one of the first players picked for the Wallabies, with 39 Tests to his name.

Taniela Tupou

Age: 27

Position: front row

Current club: Queensland Reds

NRL comparison: Lindsay Collins

The man they call the ‘Tongan Thor’ would need to shed significant weight off his 135kg frame, but Tupou has the skill to be a ball-playing front rower in the NRL.

Tupou has just joined the Melbourne Rebels after 88 games for the Queensland Reds and has also played 51 Tests for the Wallabies.

Source website: www.foxsports.com.au

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