Exclusive: Wallabies star on cusp of signing with NRL powerhouse in reality check for RA at start of ‘golden decade’

Rugby Australia might be on the cusp of an exciting four-year cycle, but not even the lure of playing the British and Irish Lions and, possibly, in a home World Cup could be enough to keep one of their rising stars.

In what shapes as a massive blow to Australian rugby, The Roar can reveal Wallabies winger Mark Nawaqanitawase is inching closer to signing a two-year deal with NRL heavyweight the Sydney Roosters.

The Roar understands that the 23-year-old, who enjoyed a breakout season in 2022 before featuring prominently for the Wallabies at the World Cup, will make a call on his future over the next 24 hours.

It’s believed the winger, who scored a brace of tries on his Super Rugby debut against the Crusaders in 2020, is leaning towards jumping codes.

Mark Nawaqanitawase during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 opener against Georgia at Stade de France on September 09, 2023 in Paris. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Money won’t be the overarching reason for the move, with the winger to earn an estimated $600,000 should he indeed jump codes.

Nawaqanitawase met with Roosters coach Trent Robinson in the days after returning home from Europe last month and was immediately impressed.

He has since met with Robinson on a couple of occasions since and is being viewed as a replacement for Waratahs-bound back Joseph Suaalii, who earlier this year signed a mega $1.6 million, three-year deal to join Rugby Australia from the end of 2024.

It was hoped that Nawaqanitawase would form a rockstar backline alongside Suaalii and Max Jorgensen, but one key piece of the puzzle looks like being lost after the extra money was thrown at the rising star of the NRL.

Aware of the meetings between the winger and the Roosters, RA has moved to try and lock down the prolific tryscorer despite not having either a director of high-performance nor a Wallabies coach in place yet.

It’s believed the governing body has offered Nawaqanitawase a multi-year deal worth more than $500,000 per season to stay in the game.

The Waratahs and RA are holding out hope Nawaqanitawase changes his mind over the next 24 hours.

But keen for a seachange, it’s understood the exciting back, who shapes as being one of the faces of Australian rugby should he stay, believes it is now or never if he wants to fulfil his dream of playing in the NRL. If he goes, he won’t rule out a return ahead of the World Cup in 2027.

Mark Nawaqanitawase scores against the Melbourne Rebels at Allianz Stadium, on May 13, 2023, in Sydney. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Nawaqanitawase, whose father Sevuloni played rugby league for Balmain, has never shied away from expressing his interest in exploring other opportunities.

Earlier this year, The Roar revealed that he signed a one-year extension to stay with the Waratahs until the end of the 2024.

The decision to sign the short-term deal was made to keep his options open beyond next season, as well as a belief that his playing stocks would rise. It has, but the remuneration package is chalk and cheese compared to Suaalii.

“I would have liked more; I’d love to stay here as long as I can,” Nawaqanitawase told The Sydney Morning Herald earlier in the year.

“With certain circumstances, we had to agree on something. The one-year [deal] was the best thing at the time.

“In a perfect world I’d like to stay [in rugby], but there’s always a but. There’s obviously other things out there that might interest me.”

Mark Nawaqanitawase makes a linebreak against the All Blacks during the 2023 Bledisloe Cup opener at Melbourne Cricket Ground on July 29, 2023 in Melbourne. (Photo by Mackenzie Sweetnam/Getty Images)

His Waratahs and Wallabies teammate Angus Bell told reporters on Wednesday the decision was ultimately up to him.

“That’s completely up to Marky and what he does,” he said.

“Me, La [Lalakai Foketi] and the returning Wallabies, during these times we just try and concentrate on becoming better rugby players. That’s a decision for Marky to make and whatever is his decision is his decision.”

Should Nawaqanitawase sign with the Roosters as expected, the move will be a reality check for RA.

The governing body had hoped the lure of featuring in a Lions series would be enough to keep its best players in Australia, but Nawaqanitawase’s expected move indicates otherwise.

As recently as Tuesday, RA chief executive Phil Waugh was spruiking the opportunities ahead with regards to Joseph Suaalii’s pending move to the game.

“I think Joseph comes across to rugby in November [2024] and we’ve got the grand slam tour,” Waugh said on the Big Sports Breakfast.

“I played for the Wallabies for a decade and never got the opportunity to play in a grand slam tour … it’s a special tour, so if he’s performing well enough and there’s a position available in that squad to go and conquer the grand slam in the UK, and then through to the series to the Lions and the home World Cup, I think it’s a really exciting time for any player to be involved in Australian rugby.”

In other news, former Waratahs back Triston Reilly has returned to the Super Rugby franchise from the West Tigers.

The 24-year-old featured for the Tigers in 2023 but left the NRL club last week. He was seen at Waratahs training on Wednesday.

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