NRL spy player raid opportunity as Rugby Australia fractures

Jared Wright
Waratahs winger Max Jorgensen, Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh and Wallabies speedster Mark Nawaqanitawase

Waratahs winger Max Jorgensen, Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh and Wallabies speedster Mark Nawaqanitawase.

The National Rugby League (NRL) is planning to hit back at rugby union in Australia with clubs set to be offered salary cap exemptions to secure top talents.

NRL chief Andrew Abdo has confirmed talks to implement a salary cap exemption to lure talent away from the rival code, as the battle between union and league in Australia heats up.

This comes at a time when Rugby Australia is battling fractures within its own framework following Dave Rennie’s sacking and Eddie Jones‘ brief stint in charge of the Wallabies, which concluded with a disastrous group stage exit at the Rugby World Cup.

NRL plan player raid

The Australian Rugby League Commission is set to meet next month and discuss how the salary cap exemptions will be implemented as they attempt to strike back at Rugby Australia, which targeted several league stars in 2023.

Cameron Murray opted to remain in league, but rising Sydney Roosters star Joseph Suaalii signed a mouth-watering deal to switch codes after the 2024 NRL season.

Meanwhile, the Roosters have reportedly started negotiations to snatch one back from union, with World Cup standout Mark Nawaqanitawase on the radar, while it is rumoured that fellow Waratah Max Jorgensen is next.

“We want the best athletes playing our game, whether that’s the men’s or women’s competition,” NRL chief Abdo told AAP.

“Growth is on our agenda, so while our primary focus is developing rugby league talent through our own pathways, we’re also open to attracting and, potentially in some cases, returning (players) to league from other codes.

“Would salary-cap relief be potentially used? Yes.

“That’s an absolute possibility that the commission will consider and consider in due course.”

The NRL already has salary cap exemptions in place for developed players and veterans and could potentially approve a similar system for clubs to sign players from rival codes.

“Any change the commission might make to that policy will have to be very carefully considered, and there will be parameters and caps. It won’t be a free-for-all,” Abdo added.

“It will be delicate, and it will be about making sure there’s an opportunity for all clubs on an equal basis to have one or two talented players that they recruit potentially from other codes around the world.”

Rugby Australia fractures

Abdo’s comments come after Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh said an aligned system was essential for his code.

“We talk about building trust and connection. We’ve lost a lot of trust with the playing group as well,” Waugh said.

“The experience that they had this year with the Wallabies at the World Cup, compared to what they would have envisaged going into the World Cup, might have been very different.

“So it’s really important for us to build a system that’s attractive for them to be a part of.”

The Waratahs have since confirmed their alignment with Rugby Australia, which will pass high-performance responsibilities on to RA.

But Brumbies CEO Phil Thomson has accused RA of a lack of transparency over fears that the Canberra-based side would be relocated, something Waugh has since assured would not happen.

Queensland Rugby Union CEO Dave Hanham told 4BC’s Wide World of Sports Radio last month that no such move would unfold in his state while he was at the helm.

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