The Roar can confirm that Craig Wing has signed to play rugby union in Japan. For some time now there have been rumours about Wing leaving Souths after a third-party deal with the club broke down.
Souths intimated to media sources that they would not allow Wing to sign with their implacable rivals, the Roosters. But the club suggested it might clear him to play rugby union in Japan or rugby league with the English Super League club Bradford.
Wing has opted for the option to play rugby union in Japan. This would not have been a difficult decision to make from a financial and sports point of view. He has a close family which he supports in every way, and this would have been the main matter for him to consider.
But in the end, the switch to playing rugby union in Japan was a no-brainer for Wing.
He will be extremely well-paid for playing in a comparatively light rugby program. He will get a chance, presumably, to do some light coaching which could lead to a further career in rugby after his playing days. And he will get the opportunity to test himself in a code that offers the prospect (somewhat distant at this point, admittedly) of playing Test rugby or rugby in Europe.
If Wing plays very well in Japan (which I expect he will), you would hope that one of the Australian Super Rugby franchises, perhaps the new 15th team in Melbourne (?) will pick him up as a star signing.
And more ifs, if this happens and he plays well there is the outside chance of his selection in the Wallaby squad to contest the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
All this sounds far-fetched, perhaps.
But I had the pleasure of watching Wing play for Sydney Boys High First XV and the Australian Schoolboys. I can report that he was terrific first five-eighth. He was strong in his defence, had a good kicking game and was a devastating runner with a great step and some pace off the mark.
Tony Hannon, the fabled coach of SHS First XV, told me at the time: “I’ve got a kid who is the best back I’ve had.” This was in an era when SHS had churned out future stars like Adam Magro, Jamie Holbeck, Duncan McRae and Chris Whitaker.
So one chilly afternoon I wandered down to Weigall Oval to watch Grammar play SHS. On the sidelines watching with me was my colleague at the Sydney Morning Herald, Paul Sheehan. We watched, almost spellbound, as Wing ripped the Grammar defences to shreds with an outstanding display of five-eights play.
Wing went on to play well for the Australian Schoolboys and then became a professional rugby league player. I always have believed that he was never used properly in rugby league, a bit like the treatment that McRae received as well. They were both turned (or attempted to be turned) in hookers when they should have been brought along as playmakers.
We are past the days, or should be, when players like Wing who switch rugby codes are called ‘converts.’ This is a switch made because the money in rugby union for a player of Wing’s status is greater than it is in rugby league.
But for those of us who saw Wing play rugby union as a youngster there is the intriguing matter of just how high he can fly in the old code.