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Code war: RA's aggressive plan to target league for World Cup - but NRL says 'tribalism and passion' is on their side

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15th May, 2022
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Rugby Australia has flagged it will step up a raid on NRL players after securing a 2027 World Cup on home soil, but league bosses says they’re unconcerned by the threat of a code war.

RA chairman Hamish McLennan told the Sun-Herald newspaper that CEO Andy Marinos and Wallabies coach Dave Rennie have already had discussions about targeting “a few good league players who grew up with rugby.”

“These players love the game and they know that a Rugby World Cup experience in Australia can’t be replicated by league.”

If McLennan’s statement was a shot across rugby league’s bows, the CEO of the NRL Andrew Abdo seemed dismissive.

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan

Hamish McLennan. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

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“We focus on rugby league; we don’t worry too much about what’s going on in and around us from the other sports’ perspective,” Abdo told the Sun-Herald.

“People are entitled to say what they want and ply their trade how they want.

“We have seen some unbelievable talent unearthed in our competition year after year. We see some great players retire and then you see some rookie players come through and become fan favourites.

“We are razor-sharp focused on making sure our competition is the best in the world.”

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Abdo said league had compelling advanatges over union.

“It’s a wonderful game to play, a wonderful game to watch. We have tribalism and passion, a wonderful support base, we’ve got clubs that have unprecedented investment into centres of excellence and new stadiums,” Abdo said.

“When a professional athlete makes a choice about where they play, they take a number of considerations into account. We certainly are confident we have the systems in place to attract and develop talent. We will continue to do that.

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“Coming out of the pandemic, we’re going to see the international game revitalised. We have a World Cup this year in the UK, we have a Pacific double-header coming up in June and we are working on an international calendar in October and November on an annual basis.

“If you’re a rugby league player, you have a lot to look forward to. It’s a pretty compelling proposition.”

Rugby Australia has been the hunted for several years with many of its top stars being poached overseas. They appear hopeful that an injection of funding from the successful 2027 World Cup bid will help them stem the tide and then push onto NRL’s territory.

McLennan was not prepared to discuss potential targets.

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Former Wallabies captain George Gregan said RA would need to be careful with their choices.

“Before I’d have a chequebook, I’d have an attitude book,” Gregan told the Sun-Herald.

“If their attitude is to compete on an international arena, contribute to the Wallaby team and they want to play the game of rugby and try and get to the heights that it enables you to do, then that’s great. The rest takes care of itself.

“That was definitely the case with players I was lucky enough to play with over my career who came from rugby league. They had an attitude which was they wanted to be world champions and the best they could be in our game. They brought that attitude and that work ethic to the team which I think is really important.”

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Gregan reflected on the signings of Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri and Mat Rogers from league. They were big stars in rugby union as well.

“They earned their place and cut their teeth playing Super Rugby, going on tours,” Gregan said. “They were quality players. The skill sets required to play both games, there’s some difference, but then there’s some stuff which correlates as well. They all had big-match temperament. They were never intimidated.”

Gregan said RA could offer something that NRL couldn’t.

“Rugby separates itself from those two codes [NRL and AFL] with a Rugby World Cup,” he said.

“It’s a global, international event, which attracts the best players in the world and attracts incredible support from all around the world. You’ll play in front of arenas which are sold out over a seven-week period which is pretty unique. The other codes, as great as they are, they just can’t offer that.”

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