The Queensland Reds appear to have lost the inside running in the race to secure Rocky Elsom’s playing services following revelations that fellow Wallabies Hugh McMeniman and Digby Ioane are on the verge of leaving the Super 14 strugglers.
Australian rugby’s hottest property was believed to be leaning towards a return to Brisbane – where he finished his schooling and where his girlfriend attends university – after helping Leinster to European Cup glory at the weekend.
But with McMeniman, a former schoolmate of Elsom’s at Nudgee College, and Ioane set to chase overseas riches, a move to the Reds has lost much of its appeal.
QRU high-performance manager Ben Whitaker admits the prospect of losing McMeniman, the Reds’ most destructive forward, and Ioane, the side’s most damaging back this season, wouldn’t exactly help the franchise’s bid to snare Elsom.
“I’m sure anyone of his standing and intellect would be looking at how the team’s served moving forward,” Whitaker said.
“The squad list right now and going into the future is an important aspect.”
The NSW Waratahs, home to Elsom for six seasons before his defection to Ireland, would be hoping they were now favourites to nab Elsom, but the Brumbies have also emerged as suitors of the classy flanker following his player-of-the-season heroics at Leinster.
And although the ARU remains confident of luring Elsom back home, high performance unit manager David Nucifora on Monday acknowledged an upgraded offer from Leinster, who are desperate to retain the 26-year-old, could even tempt the inspirational back-rower to stay in Europe.
“Until these boys decide to put pen to paper, you never really know,” Nucifora said.
Nucifora refused to confirm reports that Elsom had already agreed to terms with the ARU for a return to Australia, but was hopeful he would be able to do so this week.
“We have been working on it for a long time and I have been quite confident for a while because I am confident he that wants to come back and be a part of Australian rugby,” he said.
In addition to the uncertainty surrounding Elsom’s future, McMeniman has already told Queensland coach Phil Mooney he is poised to make a million-dollar move to either Europe or Japan, while Ioane has threatened to follow his teammate unless the ARU significantly raises its offer to keep him.
Ioane says he was insulted by the offer he received from the ARU to remain in Australia, reportedly $175,000 a season.
Nucifora would not reveal the exact amount Ioane was offered, but admitted the ARU was not always able to compete with the cashed-up overseas clubs.
“But these boys are well paid,” he said.
“I think anyone can see they’re not living on the breadline.
“They’re able to earn significant money by playing at that top level. Beyond that, it really comes down to how much they want to play for their country.
“If Hugh and Digby and these boys have got to have it in their heads that they want to be a part of Australian rugby, that they want to play for the Wallabies, if that’s their driving motivation, then we can usually accommodate them.
“If it’s just about money, we’re probably barking up the wrong tree.”
The Reds haven’t given up hope of Ioane staying in Brisbane and have offered to act on his behalf with the ARU to ensure he gets the reported $300,000-a-season – minimum – deal the 23-year-old sees he is worth.