Mark Nawaqanitawase denies he is turning his back on rugby by signing a two-year deal with the Roosters and has left the door open for a Wallabies return before the 2027 World Cup.
The 23-year-old winger has spoken publicly for the first time since the Roosters deal was announced this week, revealing in a Sydney Morning Herald interview that he feels indebted to rugby and his decision has nothing to do with the supposed code war between the two sides of the rugby divide.
“I’m not doing this code change in any way to have a crack at rugby,” he told the SMH.
“I love the sport and it’s got me to this position in life. To see some of the stuff that is being said is actually quite laughable.
“I’m not some part of a code war, I’m just doing what is right for me right now, and the opportunity at this young age to play for a club like the Roosters is something that I could not knock back.”
Nawaqanitawase said the influence of Roosters coach Trent Robinson and chairman Nick Politis in the negotiation process gave him peace of mind that he was joining a professional club that would make him better on and off the field.
Whether he returns to rugby before Australia hosts the next World Cup depends on several factors.
He has another year left in the rugby ranks before switching to the NRL and he said he would cross the bridge of his next contract after the Roosters when he comes to it.
“That’s just going to depend on how things go over the next couple of years and if I fall in love with the game like I expect to do,” he said.
“I’d be silly not to look at things in 2027 when it comes to rugby, but right now that is a long way down the track and a lot can happen in that time.
“Of course, I wouldn’t rule anything out but, to be honest, the opportunity I’ve got right now is one that not many people my age could hope to get.”
Rugby Australia boss Phil Waugh says the door “absolutely” remains open for Nawaqanitawase to continue wearing the gold jumper in 2024 despite the dynamic winger confirming his defection to the NRL.
Nawaqanitawase, who has won 11 caps for Australia since making his international rugby debut on last year’s spring tour of Europe,
The code switch will prevent Nawaqanitawase from facing the British and Irish Lions in 2025. With veteran Tongan star Daniel Tupou nearing the back end of his glittering career, Nawaqanitawase’s path to a starting berth at the Roosters is likely to be clearer when he and Joseph Suaalii trade places in 2025.
Ex-Wallaby Garrick Morgan was the last player to make the move to league with no prior senior experience and he featured just twice for the South Queensland Crushers in 1995.
The war of words between league and rugby officials has waged back and forth this year.
RA tried to sign Roosters back-rower Angus Crichton but that raid broke down after the NSW State of Origin forward’s camp became increasingly frustrated with the organisation’s negotiating tactics.
The Roosters were also keen on talented Waratahs youngster Max Jorgensen before the teenager signed an extension with RA earlier this year.
News of Nawaqanitawase’s code switch was followed by further revelations that Eddie Jones was interviewed for the Japan coaching job in Tokyo on Thursday, just weeks after resigning from the Wallabies post less than a year into his five-year contract.