The NRL is considering undertaking an unprecedented raid on players from dormant competitions, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
The report states that at least one club will inquire about Israel Folau for the 2020 season. Other players such as Sonny Bill Williams, Quade Cooper and All Blacks star Ardie Savea are also on the NRL’s radar.
Sources close to Cooper have told the Sydney Morning Herald that, if given the blessing from his Japanese club, Kinetsu Liners, he would consider signing a short term NRL deal with a club before heading back to Japan for the next season starting in January.
Folau, 31, is currently in limbo in southern France waiting for play with his Super League club, Catalan Dragons, to resume.
The NRL has set a return date for May 28, potentially with a reduced 13-game season, with at least one camp to approach Folau in the coming days to gauge his interest in signing before the June 30 deadline.
Folau, Savea, Williams and Cooper are the four main names discussed, but other names that have been mentioned include Karmichael Hunt, Kurtley Beale, Ben Te’o, Will Chambers, Jordan Rapana, James Maloney, Blake Austin and Jackson Hastings.
If these signings can be accomplished by the NRL, it would be the game’s most high-profile signing spree since the Super League war and could generate much international interest in the competition.
Many of the names would be welcomed back with open arms by clubs, but any attempt to sign Folau may see resistance from the NRL head office, which remains steadfast in it’s belief to keep him away from their ‘inclusive’ sport.
ARLC chairman Peter V’landys was careful last year to talk about Folau’s chance at an NRL return.
‘‘The comments of Israel are not inclusive,’’ V’landys said. ‘‘Israel has to understand he is a role model … he has a duty. When I was at school and kids used to get bashed up because they were different, I used to go and defend them. I have no tolerance for people who put other people’s lives into violence or whatever.’’
With the legal implications that may happen if Folau is not allowed to sign with a club, NRL clubs seem to be more open to bringing the star centre back to the competition.
In a poll undertaken by the Sydney Morning Herald before Round 1, 40% of NRL club chairs and CEO’s would welcome Folau back under strict conditions. This result shocked many at league headquarters, with one official saying that the number would have been 90% against just six months earlier.
There are questions still to be answered with this recruitment spree however. Will clubs let their players go? Is a loan system possible? When will clubs be able to register new contracts again after a freeze was put on new deals?
Cooper, for instance, is currently in Brisbane training with various Broncos and it is likely that he has played his last game in Japan, at least until next year.
Speaking on the Ice Project Podcast in December with former NRL player Issac John, Cooper spoke of his want to play in the NRL.
‘‘I want to play with Sonny before we both retire. But I wouldn’t mind playing NRL either, just for one season or even just come and do some training with the lads to see what it is like,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. I am happy with what I have been able to achieve, but if the opportunity arose I would love to do it.
‘‘A lot of people say I would come and kill it, and I know I can play it … I look at the game and every time I watch it, I know how much I would love to play and test myself at a professional level … it’s just figuring out whether it is possible.’’
Out of contract All Black Savea also spoke on John’s podcast in recent months about his desire to play in the NRL, which now could be a possibility due to the suspension of Super Rugby and International Rugby Union.
‘‘Strategically I would want to go to a team that was dominating, like the Storm or Roosters,’’ Savea said on the Ice Project podcast. ‘‘One hundred per cent I want to play rugby league, I think they do a lot more in terms of off the field stuff … and also, just a new challenge. I want to test myself.
‘‘Learning a whole new game and seeing if I can dominate, or play the way I play in union, that excites me. Seeing guys like Sonny [Bill Williams] do it kind of plays on my mind a bit.’’