‘I’m not doing this to have a crack at rugby’: Why Wallabies star couldn’t say no to Roosters
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League convert Mark Nawaqanitawase has dismissed suggestions that his code switch in 2025 is some kind of “up yours” to rugby union in the ongoing battle between the two sports.
Nawaqanitawase has instead praised Roosters coach Trent Robinson and chairman Nick Politis for the care and understanding they showed in negotiations, saying he is grateful and excited for the opportunity to join such a professional outfit.
And, as you’d expect with his league contract running out in a Rugby World Cup year in 2027, which will be played in Australia, he is leaving the door ajar for a possible return to rugby – not that it is on his mind right now.
“I’m not doing this code change in any way to have a crack at rugby,” he said, speaking for the first time publicly since his code switch. “I love the sport and it’s got me to this position in life. To see some of the stuff that is being said is actually quite laughable.
“I’m not some part of a code war, I’m just doing what is right for me right now, and the opportunity at this young age to play for a club like the Roosters is something that I could not knock back.”
Nawaqanitawase, 23, is coy about his long-term ambitions in rugby league.
Mark Nawaqanitawase taking on Georgia during the Rugby World Cup in September.Credit: Getty
“That’s just going to depend on how things go over the next couple of years, and if I fall in love with the game like I expect to do,” he said.
“I’d be silly not to look at things in 2027 when it comes to rugby, but right now that is a long way down the track and a lot can happen in that time. Of course, I wouldn’t rule anything out but, to be honest, the opportunity I’ve got right now is one that not many people my age could hope to get.”
The obvious name that gets linked with Nawaqanitawase’s move is that of Rooster Joseph Suaalii, who will move the other way to rugby in 2025 on a monster deal.
“I’ve seen our names are often mentioned together, but I’ve never met him and I’m sure he’s got a lot on his plate right now,” Nawaqanitawase said.
“Of course, if we ever got the chance to have a chat I’d like that given the link with the Roosters and rugby. I’ve obviously watched everything that he’s gone through.”
Politis didn’t hold back during the week when he described Nawaqanitawase as a “beautiful young man”.
“Did he say that?” Nawaqanitawase asked. “He’s the beautiful one – for the way he’s treated me in a short period of time, and the respect he’s given to me and my future. Dealing with him and dealing with Trent Robinson has been a pleasure.”
He was full of admiration for Robinson.
Joseph Suaalii and Trent Robinson.Credit: Roosters, Peter Rae
“Well I look at what he did for the career of someone like Daniel Tupou,” Nawaqanitawase said. “He was in reserve grade at Parramatta, and now look at where he is with the Roosters. Same with James Tedesco when he came from the Tigers. He’s gone to a completely different level as a footballer under Trent Robinson and I hope that I can learn on and off the field from Trent.”
The Roosters should be grateful to Nawaqanitawase’s mates, too. He grew up playing for Leichhardt Wanderers in the Balmain juniors admiring Benji Marshall.
“Yeah, Benji was the man when I was growing up, but my mates were Roosters supporters and they made me crazy about the Roosters as a kid,” he said. “Obviously, I admired a number of their players, but I really watched the careers closely of Israel Folau and the way he played, and of Sonny Bill Williams obviously in the way he came back to the Roosters and made such a huge impact was an inspiration for me.”
Manly’s plan to avoid fear and loathing in Las Vegas
Manly’s head of security, Michael Malligan, is already investigating the pitfalls of Las Vegas and has reached out to his counterparts at the NFL’s Raiders for advice.
Manly are the only side basing themselves in Las Vegas for the duration of the NRL’s venture to Sin City, and Malligan is already well advanced with his plans to keep the Sea Eagles out of trouble.
Manly intend to spend 11 nights in Vegas and the plan is to desensitise the team to the obvious attractions and distractions.
“When we get there, we will have a night out, but it’s not going to be Mad Monday in Vegas by any stretch,” Malligan said.
“If we didn’t have a night out, that would be worse than having one, and it’s not going to be anything too excessive, given we have a competition game to play a few days later. The idea is they’ll see the bright lights, see what it’s all about, and then forget about it and concentrate on football.”
Manly will base themselves in Las Vegas for 11 nights.Credit: NRL Photos
Malligan has been in charge of the Sea Eagles’ security for a decade and says the relationships he has built up in that time are vital.
“My worry for the other teams is if they bring in security late, and they don’t know the players, then it could lead to issues developing, only because they don’t understand the nature of the individuals they are dealing with,” he said.
“I am fortunate that I have been around this group for a decade and I understand them as people. My role is to make it a normal environment wherever they go, even if the environment is not normal.
“We are talking with Salient Operations Group, who provide security for the stadium, the Raiders and other sports teams in Vegas. And, to be honest, it’s a fairly good group and most of them don’t like putting their hands in their pocket, so I can’t see them spending up big whilst we are over there.
“We have strong leadership in the team and the rules will be the same as here. When we go out together, we come home together, simple as that. We won’t be leaving anyone to their own devices, and that works well for us over the years. The key is not really keeping the boys out of trouble, it’s keeping trouble away from the boys.”
Malligan runs his own security company, Anchor Security, and was the head of security for Australia during the recent Pacific Championships. He was also in charge of security for the Kangaroos at the World Cup in England.
“When the boys arrive in Vegas, I imagine they’ll be largely unknown,” he said. “As they get publicity over there, the role will be harder. But we are prepared for it and I’ve been speaking to contacts over there in the NFL around security and we are getting good advice there.”
Georgia on his mind
Former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones has settled in at his new home in Japan. The expectation is the same as it has been for some time – that he will take over as national coach at some point. Not as well known is that he turned down the opportunity to coach Georgia late last month.
Not calf bad
The Bulldogs are surprised by stories that Connor Tracey will miss half-a-dozen games next year due to an ankle injury. Tracey tweaked a calf in his final training session with the Sharks – on the same day he agreed to join the Bulldogs.
He has been doing light work with Canterbury, will get into full training after Christmas and is unlikely to have any lingering effects from the injury. He is expected to be available for all games.
While on the Bulldogs, exciting talent Karl Oloapu underwent surgery on his delicate neck injury on Tuesday. It remains to be seen how quickly, or if, he can make it back onto the field. Two specialists gave the Bulldogs advice that he should not risk the injury.
All quiet in the doghouse
A significant part of attempts to undermine the Bulldogs has centred on a possible challenge to chairman John Khoury. It’s a spin-off of the campaign to eventually oust general manager Phil Gould.
Khoury’s loyalty to Gould is the point of attack from those who don’t like either man. But all of the “sky is falling” reporting and the threats of a challenge to the board and chairman came to nothing. It is the second straight cycle where there has not been a challenge to the hierarchy at the once volatile Bulldogs.
Despite negative reports and consistent criticism of Gould, he has managed to rejuvenate the club’s roster. You won’t see him praised for that. That doesn’t suit the narrative. Instead, the criticism of the roster will only ramp up if the Bulldogs don’t have instant success at the start of next year.
There is no hiding from the fact that they have brought in a group of players with utility value. Success is not guaranteed and the roster can improve, and will as players come through the club’s pathways, but if you ask the Bulldogs who matter, they don’t just see “fix it” players, they see specialists in that group. More than that, they see quality people.
The person who has made a significant impression on the club is former Knight Kurt Mann. Mann is experienced, and has the kind of football knowledge that the Bulldogs were short of and have been craving. He’s made an impact on the group already.
Don’t be surprised if there is a quiet push coming out of Wests Tigers to consider Addin Fonua-Blake as club captain as the joint-venture outfit looks to lure the Warriors prop to Leichhardt. It would be an interesting move, given his reputation as a hard man and wild man all rolled into one. There is no question he has matured and has leadership qualities.
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