The inclusion of a Fiji NRC team is aimed at giving Fijians a local route to their rugby dreams, and it’s a situation that isn’t all that far removed from one Australia might find itself in, ARU CEO Bill Pulver said.
Fiji has supplied talent to Tier One Test teams across the globe, including Australia, and Pulver said in the inception of the Warriors, to be based out of Fij and made up of local players, would help keep young Fijian talent from moving overseas.
Australia has its own problems with players being lured overseas and with negotiations between the ARU and a handful of Wallabies who are eligible to play Tests despite playing in Europe.
Will Genia is the last of the Europe-based players to have returned home, with the international window now closed until November.
While Wallabies playing overseas are well-publicised, including Kurtley Beale's high-profile switch to the UK’s Wasps, there are plenty more Super Rugby players who never played a Test that are plying their trade overseas, for various reasons.
Pulver said that defection was something they wanted to curb.
“We don't like the fact that a lot of our players are lost to Australian domestic rugby and the same intention that Fiji has with their involvement in our competition is what we would like to see with players going overseas,” he said.
“It’s a key strategic issue for us - we've got some work to do.”
Fiji and the other Pacific Islands have contributed hugely to the Wallabies side, with players including samu Kerevi, Sefa Naivalu and tevita Kuridrani among the Fijians to have represented Australia in recent weeks.
Pulver said their contribution had to be balanced with the need to keep Fijian talent at home to work towards professional rugby.
“The balance is a talent development pathway that will allow Fiji to keep their talent in their home country and as the Prime Minister said it’s going to be a wonderful opportunity for young talent to be able to earn an income living in Fiji and playing professional rugby,” he said.
“I think this is a terrific first step.”
While Pacific Islanders moving to Australia for rugby opportunities has become a regular occurrence, Pulver said the Australian talent system would stand up without that influx, even foreshadowing the potential inclusion of an U19s NRC team in the future.
“We've done a lot of terrific work in my view with the Junior Gold Cup with our Australian Schoolboys, recent Super Rugby U20s, we might even look at an U19 team in the NRC team in the future,” he said.
“I think we have our pathway in pretty good shape and however we can support the needs of Fijian rugby within that that's going to be a good outcome.