The Roar
The Roar



Manu's Japan rugby moonlighting plan a modern version of UK deals for league stars - and potential Roosters salary saver

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29th December, 2023
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The NRL is highly unlikely to allow Joey Manu to flit between a Roosters deal and a Japanese rugby contract if he tries to do double duty in the future. 

But it’s going to happen eventually. And if any club could make it work, it would be the Roosters.

The ARL Commission, engaged in an ongoing battle of throwing barbs at rugby in the media, would be 100-1 to grant any NRL player, let alone a star like Manu, permission to play rugby in Japan or anywhere else during a registered long-term NRL contract.

But there would be nothing stopping Manu and the Roosters from annually signing short-term deals so that he effectively becomes a free agent then returns to the club midway through the next season after he fills his bank account with yen from a Japanese rugby stint. 

And it would annoy the other 16 clubs and their suspicious fans even more because the Roosters could then effectively get a discount on Manu’s services. 

The annual NRL contracts kick off on November 1 and players have their salaries split evenly over those 12 months whether they’re in pre-season training or in the middle of the competition. 

That means that, in theory, if Manu played Japanese rugby from December to May, he could sign a short-term deal on pro rata rates for the rest of the season. 


The NRL Salary Cap team would have to sign off on the deal and the Roosters would have to pay what is considered “market rate” for one of the best players in the sport for the rest of that year.

St George Illawarra pulled off a similar move in July of 2010 when Mark Gasnier made a return to the NRL from a French rugby stint and played a key part in the club’s charge to the premiership. 

Manu could possibly earn more than $2 million by doing double time between the codes in 2025 after his current Roosters contract runs out at the end of next season.

It’s doubtful whether he could do this switcheroo on an ongoing basis but it’s not out of the realms of possibility. 

And whether you’re a fan of Roosters supremo Nick Politis or not, he commands loyalty from players who find it hard to play against the club once they bunker down at Bondi. 

Joseph Manu. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Sonny Bill Williams returned from his All Blacks stint and Joseph Suaalii is believed to have an understanding that if he ever returns from his Wallabies sojourn that he will give the Roosters first option on his services. 


The idea behind Manu’s potential two-in-one code scheme is not new – Gasnier and the Dragons tested the waters with the NRL before he went to France and Benji Marshall explored a similar manoeuvre during his prime at the Wests Tigers.

A current NRL player actually did this union-league meal deal last year.

Storm centre Young Tonumaipea started 2022 with the Melbourne Rebels and played five games in Super Rugby before his contract expired.

He then switched his Google Maps on training days to Melbourne Storm headquarters and played out the rest of the year in the NRL. 

Young the veteran did enough during that short stint to earn a new deal with the Storm and surprisingly supplanted Justin Olam in the starting side last season.

Manu, as a marquee player, is a different kettle of fish to a journeyman like Tonumaipea but the point is it can be done. 

And a few decades ago, Australian rugby league players and their British counterparts regularly played in each competition back when the UK season was played in the northern winter.


Eels stars Brett Kenny – at Wigan – and Peter Sterling – during a stint with Hull – famously squared off against each other in the 1985 Challenge Cup final, playing out the English season before returning in May (perhaps that’s why that was the only time in a six-year run that Parra didn’t make the Grand Final).

Steve Rogers, John Dorahy, Steve Ella, Mal Meninga, John Ferguson were among the many other Aussies who boosted their coffers with UK coin in the off-season while stars such as Ellery Hanley, Garry Schofield, Andy Gregory and Martin Offiah did likewise with short-term stints Down Under.

The likely scenario for Manu is that if he does not sign elsewhere after his current deal expires and heads off to Japan for a six-month pay-off, the 2022 Golden Boot winner would sign a long-term deal at the Roosters upon his return. 

It’s no secret that the Kiwi international wants to play fullback and 2025 is the final year of James Tedesco’s contract – he will be 33 by the time the following season rolls around so the skipper could be retiring or looking at a superannuation kick-starter also known as a Super League contract to finish his career.

Or perhaps Teddy could try his hand at Japanese rugby too. There’s an old Wallabies coach over there these days who loves the NRL and would love to see Tedesco, Manu or any number of league recruits lifting the standard of the domestic competition.