The Melbourne Rebels and the Waratahs have been discussing a player swap deal that could see Wallabies utility back Jack Maddocks return to Sydney and play for NSW in 2020.
But after failing to strike a deal before Christmas, Rebels boss Baden Stephenson has expressed some doubt if an arrangement with the Waratahs will be reached before Super Rugby starts at the end of January and, therefore, if it will happen at all.
Sydney-raised Maddocks, who joined the Rebels in 2017 before debuting for Australia in 2018, is keen to move back to Sydney for personal reasons.
With a preference to play fullback, Maddocks is also stuck behind Dane Haylett-Petty at the Rebels.
The Waratahs are keen to have Maddocks wearing sky blue given the departure of Israel Folau and the likely deployment of Kurtley Beale at no.10, and the Tahs reportedly have money set aside for the 22-year-old Eastern Suburbs star.
The Waratahs and Reds managed a mutually beneficial swap last season when Karmichael Hunt joined the Tahs and Bryce Hegarty moved north.
With the likes of Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Marika Koroibete, Campbell Magnay, Andrew Kellaway and Semisi Tupou in their outside back stable, Melbourne said they approached the idea of a player swap with NSW for Maddocks “with an open mind”.
But getting the right swap has been a sticking point. It is understood the Rebels were interested in Cam Clark and Ben Donaldson but, as yet, no agreement has been achieved.
High-level negotiations, which also involve Rugby Australia director of rugby Scott Johnson, are ongoing but Stephenson said with the start of Super Rugby only 23 days away and certainty required, time is limited.
"We were hopeful, if something was to get done, was for it be done before Christmas and the longer it goes, as the old saying goes, time kills all deals. It is becoming very late in the piece for us and the Tahs and for Jack as well,” Stephenson said.
"There have been some conversations but we haven’t come up with a deal or a swap or some sort of compensation, or whatever it ends up, we haven’t reached a landing spot there.
"As Dave has said, we have had an open mind. I brought Jack down here and he’s a bloody good fella and when he is enjoying his footy he is a bloody good player.
"But I have been around long enough to also know you want everyone to have their heart in it."
While NSW paying Melbourne compensation appears to be one option, the preference of the Rebels, said Stephenson, would be a player swap.
“And this is the challenge for Dave, the likelihood of getting a like-for-like swap, there aren’t many of those floating around in the Tahs squad or would be available interstate or overseas or whatever,” Stephenson said.
Asked if a swap deal with the Waratahs could be struck after the Super Rugby season began, Stephenson said: "I don’t think it would happen during the year.”
The other complicating factor is Maddocks is also keen to take a shot at selection for the Olympics with the Australian sevens team, alongside his brother Will.
After missing World Cup selection, Maddocks helped the Aussie team qualify for the Tokyo Games at the Oceania Sevens and he is currently training with the Australian sevens team in Sydney, with an eye to playing in the Hamilton and Sydney Sevens at the end of January.
The Rebels, the Aussie 7s and Maddocks’ camp have previously had talks about juggling 15s and 7s in 2020.
“My understanding right at the moment is he is likely to do a bit of a Tom Cusack and do a combo of sevens and Super, so he wouldn’t be playing for a full Super season,” Stephenson said.