Rugby Union in Australia is fighting an intense battle to gain a foothold in the Australian sporting consciousness.
Going toe-to-toe with the immensely popular National Rugby League and Australian Football League, Union is looking to return to the glory days of the 1990s and early 2000s.
Thus, the challenge to gain column inches in Australian newspapers has been perhaps as difficult as getting consistent results.
To resolve both the on and off-pitch issues, Rugby Australia took the bold decision to recall former head coach Eddie Jones.
Sacking head coach Dave Rennie whilst offering Jones a contract through to the 2027 Rugby World Cup was a bold sign of intention from the powers that be.
As of yet, the results have not quite clicked for Jones, albeit the Wallabies have faced three of the top Rugby nations in Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand twice.
Despite this, Jones has, by and large, taken the win in the media. Putting just about everyone on a blast, from the All Blacks to the NRL, Jones has brought the Wallabies back to relevance in the media sense.
Given their final performance against the All Blacks was vastly improved, it would appear the Wallabies are not too far from clicking on the field of play either. This potential success and the prospect of featuring in a home World Cup in 2027 has made the Wallabies a lucrative prospect for several athletes not currently in the Wallabies player pool.
One such player to already make the leap is highly touted Sydney Roosters star Joseph Sua’ali who made headlines for signing a multi-million dollar contract with Rugby Australia.
Drawing the ire of the league community, the 20-year-old’s return to the sport he grew up playing is a major coup for union in Australia.
Speaking about his move away from the Roosters, Sua’ali said, “I always chase my dreams, and that has always been in my heart. It is going to be hard to leave the Roosters in a couple of years, but my heart and my dreams always come first.
“The Lions tour was one of my first encounters with Union. It has been something that has always been a goal (and a) home World Cup – playing in Australia – I think it speaks for itself.”
Whilst Sua’ali’s defection is not the first time a league superstar has made the transition with his future Wallabies teammates Marika Korobiete and Suliasi Vunivalu were dominant players for the Melbourne Storm during their time in the NRL.
Speaking back in June, Jones was bullish that more stars were on the verge of switching allegiances.
“Yeah, we’ve got about three or four that are ready to sign, mate, big names too, big names — I can’t tell you now [who they are].
“I think it adds to the competitive tension. If you open the Daily Telegraph in Sydney, you’ve got to go to the last page, and even the last page now has probably got lawn bowls on it now instead of rugby.
“So we need to get rugby back competing as a winter sport. And signing a guy like Suaali’i, it helps that. If we sign two or three others, it’ll help that, and it’ll also show kids [what’s available].
“A lot of the kids now go to a big private school, and by the time they’re 15, if they’re good, if they’re good readers of the game, they catch and pass – they’ve got a Rabbitohs contract or a Roosters contract in front of them.
“And the inevitability of that is hard to stop because we’re competing against 17 clubs that all have the recruitment budget of Rugby Australia. So we’ve got to get some of those players back, and ideally, we keep more of them at a young age, which we have to do, but then to get a few of them back after they’ve done an apprenticeship in rugby league is fantastic.”
It would now appear that the most likely next big-name signing will be Brisbane Broncos and New South Wales superstar Payne Haas.
Playing as a prop in the league, the explosive runner would likely slot in as either a backrow or centre player in Union.
The 23-year-old is contracted to the Broncos through the end of next season but has already made it known that he will be looking for a new contract.
Similar to the Sua’ali signing, Rugby Australia will likely have to pay a premium for Haas’s signature but alongside a few other stars who have expressed interest in switching codes. The Wallabies could look very different in just two seasons’ time.