2022-08-12 04:27:00

Amid golfer Cameron Smith’s rumoured decision to take the money and run to LIV, Lalakai Foketi – the relatively unknown Test centre – showed that there are still some things in professional sport that money can’t buy. In his case, a Wallabies jersey.

The question, however, is for how long, particularly with chatter that Rugby Australia’s eligibility laws will be blown up for next year’s World Cup.

It’s understood in March that Foketi, 27, turned down hundreds of thousands of dollars for the chance to continue his career for the Wallabies.

With his career progression at the Waratahs slowed by injuries, he was offered a big contract worth more than $500,000 to join French Top 14 club Clermont.

He turned it down, but not long after fellow Australian Irae Simone took the money and, therefore, will unlikely ever play for the Wallabies again based on Rugby Australia’s new Overseas Player Selection Policy.

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Lalakai Foketi opted to stay in Australia for the chance to play for the Wallabies instead of taking up an offer overseas. Photo: Getty Images
Lalakai Foketi opted to stay in Australia for the chance to play for the Wallabies instead of taking up an offer overseas. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

Foketi, who made his debut against Wales last November, will start for the first time in the No.12 jersey in the absence of Samu Kerevi and Hunter Paisami.

Simone, as well as Izaia Perese, is in-line to play his third Test, after curiously being named on the bench ahead of Noah Lolesio.

You wonder what Lolesio, who played all three Tests against England, and Suliasi Vunivalu, the two-time NRL premiership winner, must be thinking after being left out?

After all, it was only recently the duo re-signed with Rugby Australia.

Now both are seemingly sliding down the pecking order, while in the case of Vunivalu, the high-profile recruit has been only afforded a couple of minutes off the bench at the SCG.

Yet the decision by Foketi to turn down the money is curious.

He is not the only Australian player to turn down overseas offers, or indeed return home, for the lure of the gold jersey.

Nic White and Matt To’omua craved the chance to play for the Wallabies and returned home ahead of the 2019 World Cup to pursue their international debuts.

Others. like James O’Connor, followed suit.

Rising star Nick Frost managed to recently get out of a deal to join Robbie Deans at Panasonic. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

Nick Frost, the 22-year-old rising star, also reneged on a deal to join Robbie Deans’ Panasonic Wild Knights in the Japanese League One competition.

After a cracking game for the Brumbies, Frost’s coach Dan McKellar raised the possibility of him opting out. RA, along with his management and the with blessing on the Japanese club, skilfully managed to get the second-rower out of the deal.

It’s a different story for Foketi because as talented as the centre is, he still did not make Rennie’s initial squad for the England series. Only injury, as well as Kerevi’s desire to represent Australia in the Commonwealth Games, saw the Waratah called up.

Players like Foketi, as well as Hamish Stewart who too craves a Wallabies cap, are the bread and butter of domestic rugby. Without them, the game Down Under would have invested too much in too few leaving too little for the raw talent underneath.

“I went away after I finished school. I debuted for the Rebels and then went to France when I was young and realised quickly that this is the dream and this is what I wanted to do my rugby career,” Foketi said on Friday.

“I’m grateful that I’m here and I’ve just been working hard to get to this point.

“With other options and stuff, (they) haven’t really been at the forefront of my mind. My family’s happy in Sydney, and that’s another big reason, but this is always the pinnacle of rugby, for me.”

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Lalakai Foketi celebrates a try at the Sydney Cricket Ground for the Waratahs. Photo; Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

It is why RA, privately and publicly, will not entertain opening the floodgates and pick widely from overseas because the fear is it will decimate Super Rugby and cripple their stakeholders, namely the Super Rugby franchises, especially in non-World Cup years.

Next year will be the litmus test. Even after Rennie floated the idea of raising the possibility of adding an additional fourth “overseas” pick for the Rugby Championship before their tour of Argentina, RA was privately shutting down any hope of the third-year international coach being able to pick Rory Arnold, Kerevi, Marika Koroibete and Quade Cooper in the same squad.

Season-ending injuries to Cooper and Kerevi have saved Rennie from an intriguing decision.

Yet for months talk has bubbled under the surface that the eligibility criteria will be scrapped for the World Cup year, with as many as five or six players in the mix.

Whether that occurs remains to be seen and injuries could yet have a telling impact.

Japan-bound Rory Arnold will play for the Wallabies against Argentina. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

But as world No.2 golfer Smith sits on a reported $140 million deal to join the LIV Golf Series, sports stars across the world are increasingly choosing money over legacy.

Who can blame them? Private equity, and new found success, seems like the only way to put a lid on Wallabies heading overseas.

How sustainable it is remains questionable, but given Australia is hosting a World Cup in 2027 (men’s) and 2029 (women’s) the governing body will do everything it can to keep players at home.

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Source by [graycupnews.com]

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