In news that will likely start a domino effect, Matt To’omua will head overseas, paving the way for the Rebels to go after two of the biggest names in Australian rugby.
By releasing To’omua a year early from his lucrative contract, the Rebels are preparing to chase off-contract Wallabies star Samu Kerevi.
He isn’t the only one either, with the Rebels out to pounce on the rumbles at the Queensland Reds as they try to lure Taniela Tupou down to Melbourne following next year’s World Cup.
The player movement comes as Rugby Australia transitions to a new contracting model, where the national body will sign up to 35 players themselves. The model is yet to be set in stone, but it will likely come into effect ahead of the 2024 season.
Were the Rebels’ wildest dreams to come true, the Super Rugby franchise would instantly become a genuine force after years of underachieving.
But they face competition to snare both men, let alone one of Dave Rennie’s key Wallabies, with incoming Force coach Simon Cron also wanting to lure Tupou.
Cron was livid to discover Argentine international tight-head prop Santiago Madrano had already booked his ticket out of Perth when he agreed to terms earlier in the year.
Knowing the importance of having a strong tight-head prop, Cron is on the hunt for a world class front-rower and whispers have long linked Tupou to a possible move west.
The Force are desperate for a marquee player not only to help elevate their roster but to inject some bullishness and a winning attitude into their squad.
Tupou racing the clock, Rodda big blow: Wallabies boss sticks to his word as star duo axed for Poms
Yet he could be beaten to the punch by the Rebels, who are hoping the arrival of Reds hooker Alex Mafi will help entice Tupou down south.
It also believed Tupou has a close relationship with former Reds coach Nick Stiles, who was announced as the Rebels’ general manager following the 2021 season.
Were he to move from the Reds, it would be a colossal blow to the Reds and represent the biggest transfer between franchises in Super Rugby history.
As one source close to the situation however said, “Possession is 90 per cent”.
Until Tupou makes his mind up on his future, he is the Reds’ jewel to lose and given he will remain at the franchise for next season’s World Cup season, a lot could change between now and then particularly if there are changes in the high-performance set-up.
A sabbatical in Japan would likely be included in any such contract to help Tupou make up for the lost dollars by remaining in Australia.
In preparation, the Rebels will offer giant prop Pone Fa’amausili a one-year extension.
The short-term deal works for Fa’amausili because after missing the majority of the Super Rugby season because of injuries, he has yet to fulfil his incredible potential.
Fa’amausili has been included in Rennie’s 35-man Wallabies squad and should Tupou miss the Test because of a calf injury, the fellow giant prop is likely to come off the bench to make his debut after an injury-riddled few years.
If he stars on the international stage however, Fa’amausili will be able to command a massive asking price overseas where tight-head props are seen like gold.
RA could yet be inclined to throw the kitchen sink at Fa’amausili, whose damaging ball running, which provides quick ball, and hulking frame is phenomenal.
The front-row isn’t the only area the Rebels are looking at.
Kerevi, who has one season left on his deal with Suntory, is considering returning home to Australia.
The 30-year-old is the Wallabies’ most important back and he is considered a certainty to play in the midfield at the World Cup next year regardless of whether he returns to Australia.
Should he return, his return comes with an added benefit.
After RA tweaked their eligibility laws to allow three players to be picked from overseas, should Kerevi return home it would allow Rennie to pick one of the tall timbers abroad like Will Skelton or Rory Arnold to complement backs Marika Koroibete and Quade Cooper.
Perhaps even Japan-bound Tom Banks, or even uncapped star Isaac Lucas could come into the frame despite leaving Australia less than a season after graduating out from the Junior Wallabies, because the fullback position represents the national team’s biggest weakness.
Lucas, who is understood to have re-signed in Japan, made the League One’s team of the year despite his side struggling and he could fulfil a Damien McKenzie-esque role in the Wallabies.
It’s understood Kerevi is seeking a long-term deal and he could be an option to lead the Wallabies against the British and Irish Lions in 2025.
RA will have to think outside the square about how to try and remunerate the star centre if they wish to lure him home, with his current club Suntory and French clubs lining up to throw the kitchen sink at him.
To’omua’s decision to head before the World Cup exodus opens up some cash flow.
It is expected the two-time World Cup-Wallaby will move to Japan.
His departure a year after Dane Haylett-Petty retired because of concussion means the Rebels suddenly have room to move.
Should they manage to snare at least one of the two aforementioned names, they will become a force because they have a number of promising players to complement the likes of Rob Leota and Andrew Kellaway.
The Reds are the most vulnerable franchise at the moment and they risk losing the strong inroads they have made in recent years.
It comes as pressure continues to mount on Reds coach and dual international Brad Thorn, who failed to guide the 2021 Super Rugby AU winners to a victory over New Zealand opposition this season.
The Reds were the only Australian side to record a victory over Kiwi opposition.