Wallabies and Reds centre Samu Kerevi has confirmed that he will leave Australia following the Rugby World Cup to join Suntory Sungoliath in the Japanese Top League.
Kerevi has conceded he would have preferred to continue his career with the Reds than leave for Japan, but not reneging on his word and the chance to link with family were the biggest factors in his decision to accept a multi-million dollar deal.
The 25-year-old has signed with Suntory for three years and, while he has not ruled out a return to the Reds, his future as a Test player is likely to come to a screeching halt after the World Cup.
“It was a tough decision in the end but it was something I had to think about, not just for myself, but for my family, especially,” he told Rugby Australia’s official website.
“I didn’t really want to leave, in terms of what I wanted to do here in Queensland; there was a lot I still wanted to accomplish.
“Queensland’s always been my home and where I feel like I developed a lot of my rugby as well.
“There was a lot of tossing and turning with the whole decision but a lot of factors (went) into the whole decision.”
The Reds captain is understood to have agreed to an offer from Suntory early this year, with the contract offer from Rugby Australia and the Queensland Rugby Union falling well short of the reported AUS$1.2 million a season he can earn in Japan.
Kerevi’s outstanding form earnt an improved offer from Rugby Australia but he said his word meant too much to him to renege on the deal.
“It was more my word than anything,” he added.
“The whole works with Rugby Australia and my manager, it’s been 18 months in the making trying to do a long-term deal.
“I don’t blame anyone, I want to get that out there, with all that stuff it’s pretty hard.
“There was a lot of talking points with (Rugby Australia) and it goes back to I didn’t want to go back on my word.
“And it was the timing of it all, getting deals in at the right time, and nothing really came together at the speed that we’d like it in my camp.
“You play good footy and it kind of comes quicker but I just thought at the time it wasn’t.
“But I’m just happy with how things have gone now.”
— RUGBYcomau (@rugbycomau) June 14, 2019
It’s not just money that is motivating Kerevi though.
Born in Fiji but raised in Brisbane by his grandparents, Kerevi has spent little of his life with his two brothers, who are both based in Japan.
And the ability to influence his younger brother, Jone, in particular has been an integral part of his decision.
“Money is awesome, it’s comforting and a real safety net but, for me, my little brother and I missed out a lot of his life at a young stage,” explained Kerevi.
“I was here in Australia and my older brother was in Japan after the 20s with Fiji, so he didn’t get his older brothers, he didn’t get time with us.
“Now he’s going to university and furthering his education and his rugby in Japan.
“I prayed about this situation and prayed about not just what I needed but what my family needed, especially him.
“I want to be there for him for the next couple of years, and see his growth, teach him how to shave and little things that he missed out on – he probably knows how to do that already – but coming up to his 21st birthday, I really wanted to be there for him.
“He’s becoming a man and he kind of already is. He had to take on a lot of things at home when we weren’t there, so he was the biggest factor in the whole thing.
“Thinking about him and his growth as a young man, I wanted to be a part of it as much as god is and our family is, so that was a big point for me.”
With just 25 Tests currently to his name, Kerevi falls well short of the 60 required to qualify for Giteau’s Law, the rule introduced by Rugby Australia to allow overseas-based players to continue to be eligible for Wallabies duty.
Rugby Australia officials have said they will not make changes to the law, despite an exodus of players after the World Cup, and Kerevi was philosophical about his time in a gold jersey coming to an end.
“I’m a bit short at the moment but that’s not in my hands,” he said.
“It’s up to Rugby Australia but I’ll always put up my hand for rugby.”
Humble to the end, Kerevi holds no grudges against RA officials, firmly believing he is not their biggest priority.
“I’m not disappointed in anyone to be honest,” he said.
“It is what it is. There’s a lot of things on their table and I’m not the most important thing out there.
“And that’s okay with me. I’m here to serve Queensland first and obviously it’s a big season for rugby.
“I’m not disappointed in anyone, I’m not disappointed in anything, I’m just content with the decision I’ve made.”
Kerevi hasn’t closed the door on an eventual return to the Reds though.
“Ballymore’s always been my home,” he said.
“I’m really excited about what they’re doing in the next couple of years as well with the development, I know Ballymore’s going to be at that next level.
“I’ll never close the door on anything and I’ll be keeping a close eye on these young men.”