‘Just as important’: Cheika pours cold water on NRL role, advice to RA ahead of Wallabies coaching search

As Rugby Australia begins the process of hiring its next Wallabies coach, former boss Michael Cheika has reiterated his stance that he won’t be rushing into his next move while also pouring cold water on the idea that he is about to cross-code permanently.

Cheika, 56, was last week once again linked to joining the West Tigers as their new general manager of football.

But the well-travelled coach, who led Los Pumas to last month’s World Cup semi-finals, said on-the-ground coaching still held greater appeal than overseeing a program.

“I know it’s been bandied around that they’re looking for some solutions in their management role,” Cheika told SEN.

“But if I was to ever go down that road, I think it would be more to test myself as a coach more than anything. I think to try and master that challenge would be awesome.”

That shouldn’t come as a surprise given his brief tenure as NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu director of rugby.

As The Roar revealed earlier this year, Cheika called time on his association with the club after falling out of favour with the club. It came after spending just 36 days with the club.

Michael Cheika shakes hands with Wallabies coach Eddie Jones in July. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

The dramatic departure of Eddie Jones as Wallabies coach one season into his five-year deal has seen Cheika’s name suddenly catapult back into the reckoning as a potential candidate.

While new Leicester Tigers coach Dan McKellar and Brumbies mentor Stephen Larkham are other Australian alternatives, Cheika, who coached the Wallabies between 2014 and 2019, has the international experience to be considered for Australia’s rebuild job.

But the experienced coach said he wouldn’t be lobbying for any other roles until he meets with Argentina to determine if he or his assistant, Felipe Contepomi, would lead Los Pumas forward.

“When I was the coach in Australia, I was very loyal and that’s my go,” Cheika said.

“I’m very loyal to what’s happening between me and Argentina – that’s my first port of call.

“I’ll go down there in a couple of weeks, and we’ll have a full debrief of what we did and then start making plans for the next World Cup. And then also decide what I’m going to do moving forward.

“The original arrangement was that a young fella who I coached at length – Felipe Contepomi – he’s the guy who is going to take over at some stage.

“We’ll make a decision together on whether they think it’s good for me to stay on in that environment or does he want to go on his own.”

Cheika, who led Lebanon to the 2022 Rugby League World Cup quarter-finals and then returned in time to lead Los Pumas to a historic win over England at Twickenham a week later last year, said he hoped to be involved in both the league (2026) and rugby (2027) World Cups in Australia.

“I’m still on with the (Lebanon) Cedars and there’s a World Cup that will be in Australia, I think, in 2026 before the Rugby World Cup in 2027. I’m looking forward to being involved in both of those – one way or another,” he said.

Michael Hooper (L) of the Waratahs and Waratahs coach Michael Cheika. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

As for the current Australian rugby landscape, Cheika, who has previously not wanted to critique the Wallabies’ miserable 2023 campaign, said Rugby Australia needed to ensure they invested in Super Rugby as much as the national level.

“I do believe that coaching at Super Rugby level is just as important as who is coaching the Wallabies team,” Cheika said.

“That is where the players are being prepared, that’s where it needs so much investment to make sure it’s going well…

“Hopefully, from this they’ll (RA) start to get a real understanding of the things that need attention to make the game, not just the Wallabies, get itself back on track. I am sure it will.

“I know there is a lot of negativity around but it will. Without taking anything for granted, we are getting to a regime of understanding what’s required. Have a good plan and good people around and treat those people well, then things can happen.

“Things can turn around, you have to hold course and have a course to go to. That will be the next step, setting the course going forward.”

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