Rugby Australia has suffered another blow after Wallabies winger Mark Nawaqanitawase agreed to join NRL club the Roosters for the 2025 season on a two-year deal.
The performances of the 23-year-old at this year’s Rugby World Cup were one of the few bright spots from a dismal tournament in which Australia was eliminated in the pool stage.
The Rugby Australia (RA) chief executive, Phil Waugh, issued a statement thanking Nawaqanitawase for his efforts in his 11 tests for Australia.
“We are disappointed – Mark has been a strong player over the last 12 months,” Waugh said.
“However, the outside backs are a position of strength for us, with great depth coming through. We are confident we are well stocked with talented wingers for the future.”
Nawaqanitawase’s agent, Andrew Fairbairn, said the decision to sign with the Roosters was difficult.
“This has been an intense process for Mark and his family, which has taken some time to navigate,” Fairbairn said.
“At 23, Mark feels now is the best time to stay in Australia, but have a new experience in the Roosters program for 2025 and 2026. (Roosters coach) Trent Robinson has a long line of success with working with rugby union talent – which ultimately was the catalyst in Mark’s decision.”
The Roosters are looking to revitalise their squad after the highly fancied NRL club finished seventh this year and was eliminated in the second week of the finals.
Nawaqanitawase played the 13-a-side in junior levels but settled in union by age 14, playing for St Pat’s college and club Eastwood.
Roosters outside back Joseph Suaalii agreed to join rugby union in March, starting in 2025. The deal for Nawaqanitawase means the two will effectively trade places.
Fairbairn said Nawaqanitawase – who is set to fulfil his contract and play for the Waratahs in 2024 – hadn’t ruled out a return to union.
“A lot of good people, including the fans, have been involved in Mark’s journey, which has made this decision an emotional one,” he said. “We hope the door will be open for Mark to return to the Wallabies fold in the future.”
Rugby union is recovering after a challenging 2023 during which Eddie Jones was hired and then let go as Wallabies coach, and Hamish McLennan was ousted as chair.
But there remains optimism the game will recover. Last month the code unlocked funding on the debt market through a deal with Pacific Equity Partners which will facilitate investment on the high-performance program, women’s rugby, grassroots competitions and pathways.
The British and Irish Lions will tour Australia in 2025, and RA will host the men’s World Cup in 2027, and the women’s tournament in 2029.