ARU not interested in league stars - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

ARU not interested in league stars

By Darren Walton 21/05/2008 07:10:51 PM Comments (0)

Australian Rugby Union chief John O'Neill says the ARU has no interest in trying to entice rugby league superstars Sonny Bill Williams and Mark Gasnier to switch codes.

But after forecasting an ARU raid on the NRL's developing stars, O'Neill on Wednesday warned his rival code faced a torrid time preventing marquee players from accepting big-money deals from cashed-up European clubs.

With Gasnier and Williams both linked to moves to France, O'Neill predicted the ARU and NRL would continue to struggle to keep their leading players from heading offshore - where money is no object to some wealthy clubs.

"It's a genuine threat," he said. "I don't think it's going to go away.

"We're seeing even second division clubs in France like Toulon paying extraordinary money for the likes of George Gregan and others.

"Dan Carter, the great All Black five-eighth, has been offered 700,000 euros ($A1.15 million) for half a year to go have a sabbatical in France.

"The entrepreneurs who are running those clubs see the world as one big market place for them.

"If a Sonny Bill Williams or a Mark Gasnier, any number of talented rugby league players, would bring prestige to their competition, they would be in the competition for them."

O'Neill, though, insisted that while Williams and Gasnier would be "sensational" rugby players, they were not on the ARU's radar.

"We're just not interested in them, full stop," he said.

"I think what we're seeing at the moment is the force of the UK and the European rugby clubs.

"We've been talking about it for a while in terms of our talent being under attack, but it's clear if you see the likes of great rugby league players like Sonny Bill and Mark Gasnier talking about going to play rugby in France, it gives you some idea of the size of the dollars on offer.

"For our part, and by no means am I shying away from the fact that Wendell Sailor, Mat Rogers and Lote Tuqiri were great rugby players, (who) played for Australia, our current plans are not to go down that path.

"We have a lot of good young kids coming through the ranks. Our development pathways are, I think, a lot better than what they were.

"You can see at the moment with the likes of Kurtley Beale, Quade Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Lachlan Turner and a bunch of others, particularly other outside backs, that we're not in that market."

The ARU last month announced a worrying $8.4 million loss for the 2007 calendar year and, in a watershed moment for professional rugby, invited private investors to buy shares in the four Australian Super 14 clubs.

But O'Neill said his organisation's lack of interest in Williams and Gasnier was "not about affordability", but more the ARU's strong desire to invest in youth.

And that may well include a raid on the NRL's Toyota Cup.

"One of their (the NRL's) initiatives that I really applaud is their under-20 competition and, if we're going to concentrate our talent scouts anywhere, it will be on the under-20 competition," O'Neill said.

"(That is) really what's been happening for years between the two codes.

"I think the earlier you can pick up talent ... where the skills in rugby league and rugby union are very similar, we're moving away from that top end of the market and concentrating on getting in a bit earlier.

"I saw (NRL boss) David Gallop this morning say that a number of rugby league clubs in Sydney are under the pump financially.

"And we've announced recently that we're introducing private equity. Look, we're in the same market. We're not the same size sport as rugby league or AFL, but certainly we suffer from the same pressures.

"So our available investment dollars are going back into grassroots and growing our own talent."

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