Why these All Blacks are looking at 'alternatives'
SPOTLIGHT: Some of New Zealand’s leading players revealed they are ‘keen’ on exploring alternatives to playing in their own country.
All Black stars Will Jordan and Jordie Barrett have revealed they are eager to explore opportunities in rival codes – Rugby League and Australian Rules Football.
Both players were standouts for the All Blacks this year, as reflected by their nominations for All Blacks Player of the Year at the upcoming New Zealand Rugby Awards.
Jordan also revealed he is interested in playing Major League Rugby, should the competition continue to build traction over the coming years.
Since its inception in 2018, the MLR has grown rapidly as a start-up league, with the number of teams expanding from seven to 13 teams across the United States and Canada.
Numerous star figures have also headed to North America to ply their club trade since then – including All Black legend Ma’a Nonu, Wallaby greats Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper, Springbok icon Tendai Mtawarira, former England captain Chris Robshaw and French behemoth Mathieu Bastareaud.
Now it appears that Jordan could join that list of expats in the MLR at some stage in his career as it continues its development as one of Rugby Union’s leading emerging competitions.
Speaking to the What A Lad Podcast, hosted by former Hurricanes fullback James Marshall, Jordan said that he is interested in playing overseas at some point down the line and that the MLR holds plenty of intrigue for him.
The 2021 World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year described the competition as “enticing” for players looking to play abroad, but noted that he would only sign up for the MLR if it grows out of its “minor stages” of existence.
“At some point in my career, I’d be keen to go and explore that, whether it’s Japan or Europe,” Jordan, who scored a hat-trick for the All Blacks in their 104-14 thumping of the USA Eagles in October, told What A Lad.
“I think one thing that’s actually enticing for players these days is potentially that American league sparking up.
“I’ve been to the States a couple of times. If that league ever did take off, then the opportunity to go and live over in the States for a year or two would be something I’d be pretty interested in.
“At the moment, it’s more in its minor stages, but, if that did pick up, I’d be certainly interested in that. But, I think at some point I’ll jump overseas probably a few years down the track and give it a nudge.”
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* Meanwhile Jordan and Barrett have revealed they are eager to explore opportunities in rival codes.
Jordan, 23, has made a name for himself as one of the hottest properties in the sport, and he may look to continue his rapid development by spending some in another sport in Australia.
He said is interested by the prospect of spending a pre-season training with an AFL club.
The 13-Test international said the motive behind such a switch would be to help improve his skillset as an outside back, a position of which he sees plenty of similarities with in Australian Rules.
Jordan described the AFL as “a cool game to watch” and added that he and Barrett have floated the idea of honing their craft in an Australian Rules environment in the lead-up to a Rugby Union campaign.
“The one sport, actually, where I would like to do a bit of pre-season or just get into the environment would be AFL,” Jordan told What A Lad.
“I’ve always found that a cool game to watch, and I think a lot of the stuff they do with kicking and the high-ball work and that would have quite a lot of correlation with a back three player, so that’s something that Jordie and I have actually talked about a little bit.
“It’d be cool to be able to head into one of their environments and pick up a few things that they do with those skill sets because there probably are similarities between that and players in the back three or playing 10.”
In saying that, Jordan downplayed the prospect of a full-fledged switch to the AFL with no prior playing experience in Australian Rules.
“I don’t know if it ever would actually happen going to do a season. It would be a pretty big plunge,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say it’s something that would realistically happen, but, like I say, the opportunity to, maybe just for a week or two, go and train with them would be something that would be fun. I actually do seriously enjoy watching AFL. I reckon it’s a cool sport.”
In a separate What A Lad episode, Barrett said there was “no chance” that he would commit himself to an AFL move, but echoed Jordan’s sentiments that he would be keen to spend some time learning the fundamentals of the sport at an elite level.
“No chance. I’m not running around a circle pitch all day,” Barrett said of the possibility of becoming an AFL player.
“Mind you, I actually love the game of AFL, too. I sat there last year when I was at the cricket, I think the AFL guys were in their pre-season, sort of training and whatnot. It’d be good to go over there and learn how to kick a ball properly for a couple of weeks.”
However, while Barrett categorically ruled out any notion of a code-switch to the AFL, he laid bare his desire to one day play Rugby League.
The 24-year-old, who had a stellar All Blacks season where he established himself as New Zealand’s first-choice fullback, revealed he “might” try his hand at Rugby League for a season after developing an interest in the NRL as a spectator.
“To be honest, every off-season or every time I’m sitting there watching a rugby league game, I think, ‘I’d love to go over there and play some league’,” Barrett told What A Lad.
“Just for a season, and who knows? I might. Like I said before, it crosses my mind a lot. I’m not sure what position I’d play. I’d love to just go over there and just give it a crack. Who knows?”
Although he is a fullback who can cover multiple other backline positions in Rugby Union, the 36-test international fancies himself as a flyhalf in Rugby League due to the kicking responsibilities and defensive duties associated with the position.
“I wouldn’t mind kicking the skin a few times on the fourth or fifth tackle, a few 40/20s, putting up some floater bombs, and just defending in the frontline, trying to put some shots on. You’re allowed to be a grub in that game, so I’d love it,” Barrett said.
The same can’t be said for Jordan, as he told What A Lad that, with limited exposure to the sport, a move to rugby league is unlikely.
“In terms of a serious change, not really. I’ve watched the NRL a little bit. Growing up, I never played league or anything like that,” Jordan said.
“It’s not that big in the South Island, or Christchurch, probably as much as it is up north, so I never really played league.
“Growing up, I watched the Warriors play and stuff, and I watch the NRL kind of casually a bit now, but it’s never something that’s kind of popped up for me.”
By Alex McLeod, RugbyPass