Australian rugby will learn next week whether Brumbies five-eighth Noah Lolesio will stay at home or head overseas.
The 22-year-old playmaker, who has played 11 Tests and wore the No 10 jersey in the opening six Tests last year, is weighing up a deal in Japan.
“It’s not Tom Banks money,” one source said, referring to Lolesio’s teammate who will leave the Brumbies for a deal in Japan that is in excess of $1m.
Nonetheless, it’s substantially more than his current contract, although he will receive a Rugby Australia top-up should he stay.
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He is the latest Test player to be weighing up a move overseas, with veteran halfback Nic White reportedly another considering a pre-World Cup move that would be a blow not only to the Brumbies but the Wallabies too.
The situation Lolesio finds himself in — as does Reds captain Fraser McReight in his position of flanker — is he is one of a crop of talented playmakers in the mix to drive the Wallabies forward in the years post the 2023 World Cup. Until then, Quade Cooper and James O’Connor are considered the frontrunners to wear the No 10 jersey.
Ben Donaldson, Will Harrison, Tane Edmed, Reesjan Pasitoa and, perhaps the most prodigious of the lot, Tom Lynagh, are also contending for the coveted 10 jersey ahead of a crucial five-year period featuring a British and Irish Lions series and World Cup on Australian shores.
The Brumbies and Rugby Australia want to keep Lolesio, but they understand the tough decision he faces.
Should Lolesio leave, the Brumbies will undoubtedly pounce on Edmed — the Waratahs playmaker, who is in one of three exciting young 10s at NSW.
Fortunately RA have skilled operators in contracting manager Nick Taylor and Wallabies manager Chris Webb, who are said to be working well with player agents across the country.
Lolesio is toing and froing with whether to stay, but should he join Samu Kerevi in Japan it will leave the Wallabies without a player they have already invested in.
It will also leave the Wallabies with few players with Test match experience in the No 10 jersey.
What if veteran fly-halfs O’Connor and Cooper don’t make the World Cup or miss a chunk of it do to injury?
O’Connor is out for at least a month with a knee-injury, including the Reds’ crucial first trans-Tasman crossover Super Rugby match against the Hurricanes on Saturday.
It is the latest injury setback for O’Connor, who debuted for the Wallabies aged 18 in 2008, having also missed three months last year.
Cooper, too, has also been sidelined in Japan this year. He was healthy for last season’s Rugby Championship when he returned to Australian rugby and steered the Wallabies to five successive victories, but he has been injury prone in the past.
Should either go down in a World Cup year, Lolesio would likely be next in line with Matt To’omua a fallback.
Let’s not forget that Stephen Donald was given an SOS by the All Blacks in 2011 and stepped up to kick them to glory over France in the final.
Lolesio is not the only young gun considering their future.
McReight, 23, who captained the Junior Wallabies to the under-20s World Cup final in 2019, is also increasingly getting frustrated by the lack of opportunities he is being afforded.
While his teammates at junior level, such as No 8 Harry Wilson and prop Angus Bell, have been given time in the saddle, McReight’s development has been stalled by being in the same position as inspirational captain Michael Hooper.
McReight wants to stay in Australian rugby and wear the Wallabies jersey, but RA risks losing him to an overseas club as was the case with backrowers Liam Gill and, to a lesser extent, Sean McMahon, should coach Dave Rennie not find ways to give him opportunities in the gold jersey.
With a World Cup around the corner, it would be astute for the Wallabies to give McReight a starting berth at some point rather than a handful of minutes from the bench.
When David Pocock missed the crucial World Cup pool game against Ireland in 2011, coach Robbie Deans had no other openside flanker to turn to.
It hurt the Wallabies’ chances as they had to face the Springboks in the quarter-final and the All Blacks in the semis — a knockout tightrope from which they ultimately fell.
A home British and Irish Lions series and World Cup was supposed to keep the best young talent on Australian shores, but in an increasingly aggressive market RA is fighting fires on every front.
Rennie faces the challenge of trying to win every match and build momentum into the World Cup, too.
Private equity dollars are around the corner, but the extra revenue won’t solve the problem on the doorstep now.