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Future of Australia’s three best five-eighths up in the air

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Expert
30th May, 2019
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Bernard Foley is off his game and almost off contract, so does he have a future in Australia even if he wants to stay?

There’s a strong possibility that Foley, who turns 30 in September, will be keen to head overseas after this year’s World Cup.

The likelihood of him settling in Japan to play in the Top League is high, however he’s also a chance to head to Europe with a few of his Wallabies teammates to take up a rich deal.

Since his brilliant form at the 2015 World Cup, Foley has been fairly underwhelming for the Waratahs and Wallabies.

A solid contributor, for sure, and pretty reliable. But his running game hasn’t been as prominent in recent years.

He seems happy to be more of a kicking and passing five-eighth, despite his speed being one of his best traits.

His current contract expires after the World Cup. Having made over 100 appearances for the Waratahs since 2011, if he does decide to move on he will leave a big hole.

Bernard Foley

Where to for Bernie Foley? (Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

The Waratahs picked his understudy for the last few seasons, Mack Mason, to start against the Sunwolves earlier this season in Newcastle.

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As a Wallaby in a World Cup year, Foley needed a rest at some stage and Mason’s selection was made with a view to the future, giving the 23-year-old a chance to run the show.

Mason is signed with the Tahs until the end the 2020 season.

“We knew Bernard indicated that potentially this could be his last year,” Gibson said in late March when announcing Mason as the Tahs’ No.10.

“He could move offshore, and we needed someone who was going to be here long-term and we saw that in Mack.”

Mason make a few crucial errors in a dismal loss for the Tahs that now, with three regular-season games remaining and sitting eight points away from the Australia Conference-leading Brumbies, looks as haunting as ever.

It would be cruel to judge Mason on that sole dud performance, but if the Tahs still think he’s not the playmaker to lead them over the next few seasons, would they offer Foley a new deal or look elsewhere?

Does the Tahs backline need an overhaul? Only yesterday, Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson gave Foley a bit of a spray for his output against the Jaguares last weekend.

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“We’re pretty disappointed with how Bernard performed at the weekend. It was below where he should be. He knows that,” said Gibson, a day before he lines up against Quade Cooper and the Melbourne Rebels.

Foley outshone Cooper when the two sides met last month, racking up all 16 second-half points as the Waratahs flew home to win 23-20.

If Cooper turns it on tonight, gets revenge on Foley and helps to get his side a vital win, he can not only put the Rebels in a great spot to make the Super Rugby finals but boost his hopes of winning back a Wallabies jersey.

But on top of this, Cooper’s future beyond this season is also unknown – so he could also be on show for another contract.

After 118 games for the Reds, he only signed a one-year deal when he got the flick from Brad Thorn in Brisbane, and he hasn’t given much away publicly as to where he sees himself next year.

Like Foley, it’s likely Quade will continue his career overseas.

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Quade Cooper with Will Genia in support

Quade Cooper and Will Genia have been superb in 2019. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

He is 31 and his main motivation for playing on in Australia this season was to try to get on the Wallabies’ plane to the World Cup. He’s already had a taste of overseas club competition when he spent 2015-16 at Toulon in France, but Japan is also a strong possibility.

Matt Toomua is a natural replacement for Quade at No.10 for the Rebels, while some think Jack Maddocks might even be on the verge of a move into five-eighth.

Christian Lealiifano will start at five-eighth for the Brumbies when they take on the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Saturday. He’s also 31, has played well over 100 games for the Canberra side since his debut in 2007 and is off contract at the end of this year.

Lealiifano hasn’t said much publicly either as to where he would like to play on next year, but he too has already had a stint overseas with Irish side Ulster in 2017.

Matt McGahan, a 26-year-old New Zealander, will start at five-eighth for Queensland on Saturday night against the Jaguares in Brisbane with Bryce Hegarty shifting to fullback.

After Thorn got rid of Quade, Hamish Stewart was tipped as the chosen one to take over at No.10. He has struggled there, played a bit of fullback, and then spent time on the sidelines recently with a shoulder injury.

Over the next two months we will probably find out what jersey Foley, Cooper and Lealiifano will be pulling on after the World Cup.

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There’s a strong chance that all three five-eighths will leave to move to overseas clubs, leaving behind about 370 Super Rugby games of experience in a swift shift.

There will be a few vacancies at five-eighth at Australia’s four Super Rugby teams next season. Is there the quality to step up and make a mark?