I won't be pillaging NRL, says McKenzie - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

I won't be pillaging NRL, says McKenzie

By Tom Wald and Steve Jancetic 14/07/2008 07:40:30 PM Comments (0)

Incoming Stade Francais coach Ewen McKenzie has rejected suggestions of pillaging the NRL following confirmation that Mark Gasnier will join the French rugby union club on a two-year deal.

St George Illawarra have called an 11am press conference on Tuesday to announce that the superstar centre is switching codes at the end of this season.

The Australian Rugby Union tried to lure the 133-game NRL player to the 15-man code in 2006 and this time the big money on offer in Europe won his signature.

There have been reports that Gasnier, who turns 27 this Saturday, will earn up to $1 million a season playing for the Paris side.

McKenzie dismissed complaints about rugby raiding the NRL's ranks.

"I'm not chasing guys here that don't want to play rugby," McKenzie told Fairfax radio.

"Mark Gasnier made it quite clear to me four years ago that he had a very strong interest in the game.

"League came up with a multi-million dollar deal to keep him in league, from what I can gather that might not have come to fruition.

"I do find it amusing that people talk about these multi-million dollar deals overseas when they actually had one to keep him and they haven't actually delivered on it.

"Everyone says it's about the money, I don't actually believe it's the case. I actually think Mark's got a genuine interest."

McKenzie said caps on the number of overseas players ensured there would not be a major player exodus to French rugby.

"I don't think there's going to be a whole heap (go over there) because Australians and Kiwis count as foreign born players and each club can only have two," he said.

"You're not going to see 20 Australian guys playing in a French rugby side."

McKenzie, who had high profile converts Lote Tuqiri, Wendell Sailor, Matt Rogers and Timana Tahu play under him at NSW, had no doubts that Gasnier could make an impact in rugby.

"I have a high opinion of him, I think he will make a great convert," he added.

His defection is set to throw a spanner in the works of the marketing department for this year's Rugby League World Cup with Gasnier being a major part of the advertising campaign.

Not to mention the Dragons, who have invested heavily in him while watching plenty of young talent exit the club in recent years including Josh Morris's impending departure.

ARU boss John O'Neill ruled out the possibility of Gasnier being available for Wallabies selection.

In other news, Parramatta's flagging finals fortunes received a boost with Feleti Mateo's knee injury not nearly as serious as first thought.

It had been feared the key playmaker's knee complaint could be season-ending.

The powerful five-eighth will miss Friday night's clash with ladder-leading Manly at Brookvale Oval but could return for the round 20 home match against North Queensland.

The 10th-placed Eels desperately need the big ball-player on the park as they try to slide their way into the finals.

Eels coach Michael Hagan said that 19-year-old utility Kris Keating was likely to be thrown into the No.6 jumper for the clash with the Sea Eagles in just his third top-flight outing.

The premiership-winning mentor said the stakes had been raised for the Eels following back-to-back losses to Penrith and Souths.

"It just means the Manly game has more pressure attached to it and every team is looking for two points at this time of the season," he said.

"I am confident that Kris Keating will do a good job, he has been around the team for most weeks, he has played a couple of games off the bench and played pretty well."

Panthers coach Matthew Elliott expected Frank Pritchard and Luke Lewis to be nursed through training this week as they aim to play in Saturday's away clash against the Gold Coast.

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