Rathbone: What's the price of a jersey?

Clyde Rathbone
by Clyde Rathbone

In recent weeks Michael Cheika has been forced to defend himself again charges that he is cheapening the Wallabies jersey.

The criticism centres on Cheika's decision to select Marika Koroibete in the the Wallabies spring tour squad.

Koroibete hails from Naraiyawa, Fiji, where he grew up playing Union before embarking on a stellar stint in the NRL. With a background in Union and playing on the wing there's every reason to think he'll adapt quickly to the Wallaby environment. And at just twenty-four years of age he's the kind of investment that could return dividends for years to come.

He's also hardly the first player to travel the path from one code to another before quickly getting a crack at a test jersey. My Wallaby career overlapped with Lote Tuqiri, Wendell Sailor and Mat Rogers - all of whom were fast tracked into Wallaby gold where they performed admirably.

More recently the phenom that is Israel Folau has proven that the best rugby league players can dominate in Union.

When I arrived at the Brumbies I was struck by the diversity of the squad. While the bulk of the team consisted of home grown Australian players, we also had a smattering of South Pacific Islanders and two South Africans in Dan Vickerman and myself.

I understand the concerns about foreign players or code-hoppers. Nobody wants to see up-and-coming talent stifled by a lack of opportunity, especially if it's likely that the much vaunted newcomer could be gone as quickly as he arrived. Timana Tahu comes to mind.

Tahu entered rugby union with a massive reputation and an even bigger contract. And despite showing glimpses of his potential he never made an impact at test level before returning to the NRL. It's this kind of expensive mistake the ARU can no longer afford to make.

Rugby in Australia can't gamble on players flirting with our code. However, we most certainly should open the door to players who are committed over the long haul.

I know that I've always felt indebted to the Brumbies and Wallabies for the opportunity to live in Australia. And I know this sense of gratitude helped me assimilate in a new environment many thousands of kilometres from my country of birth.

Perhaps this is the only criteria that really matters in assessing a potential recruit. Do they appreciate and respect the opportunity they've been given to represent Australia? If they can answer that question in the affirmative and follow it with action, well then there's every reason to think they will be worthy custodians of a jersey that money can't buy.

Clyde Rathbone captained South Africa to a Junior Rugby World Cup in 2002 before immigrating to Australia, playing 73 matches with the ACT Brumbies and 26 for the Wallabies. He is co-founder technology of Karma.wiki

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.