By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Cashed-up Japanese rugby clubs are going to lure more and more players away from Australia in the future and holding onto talent like Marika Koroibete is going to be a major struggle, according to Wallabies coach Dave Rennie.
A slew of established test players are already playing in Japan, including Wallabies captain Michael Hooper on a sabbatical, and impressive form in Super Rugby AU has only increased speculation that Koroibete will soon join them.
Agreeing that the winger had been in "phenomenal" form, Rennie said the 'player drain' was a simple matter of economics and that Australia needed to make the lure of wearing the national team jersey a factor in such decisions.
"We'd love to keep him but that's the challenges we face," Rennie told reporters in Sydney.
"The Japan market is just going berserk, it's not just the elite but some fringe guys and guys who would be battling away in Super Rugby over here can earn three or four times what they would be paid.
"That's why we've got to make the Wallaby jersey something the guys are desperate to get."
The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that Rugby Australia were already struggling financially before the sledgehammer of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving even less cash available to spend on player contracts.
"Whether we can afford to hang on to guys like Marika, that's the question," he added. "If anything, through COVID, there's less resource around that and as contracts are coming through, the guys are getting less, not more."
With only 34 caps to his name, Koroibete will fall well short of the 60 required under the so-called Giteau Law to continue playing test rugby while contracted to an overseas team.
Rennie does have an option to draft in a few players from abroad who did not meet the caps threshold in exceptional circumstances, but again reiterated that he would be reluctant to use it.
Suliasi Vunivalu, another Fijian-born rugby league convert, would appear to be a ready-made replacement should Koroibete leave Australia, but Rennie said the Queensland Reds winger was not yet the finished product.
"As you know, he's a really good athlete," Rennie said. "He's learning ... he's been caught out a couple of times defending as you would in league, but he’s a smart man and he’s certainly making an impact."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)