Depleted Roosters won’t rush Wallaby’s league education

Scott Bailey |

Rugby convert Mark Nawaqanitawase (l) appears set to join the Sydney Roosters after the Olympics.
Rugby convert Mark Nawaqanitawase (l) appears set to join the Sydney Roosters after the Olympics.

The Sydney Roosters are expected to get their hands on rugby union convert Mark Nawaqanitawase early, but have ruled out rushing him into NRL action.

The Roosters on Monday lodged last-minute paperwork for the Wallabies winger, hours before the 5pm mid-season window closed.

Already signed by the Roosters for 2025 and 2026, the NRL spent Monday evening discussing whether to approve Nawaqanitawase’s arrival for once he finishes representing Australia in rugby sevens at the Paris Olympics.

Mark Nawaqanitawase
Mark Nawaqanitawase was not selected in the Wallabies squad but looks set to play at the Olympics. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

If approved as expected, it means the 23-year-old’s Roosters contract will not kick in until that point, with the Games gold-medal match in Paris scheduled for July 27.

The Nawaqanitawase application came on a busy day at the Roosters, with Angus Crichton re-signing on a two-year deal and Sitili Tupouniua opting to move to Canterbury next year.

The Roosters also confirmed on Monday morning that Joey Manu would need surgery after suffering two fractures in his left hand in the club’s win over Wests Tigers.

While Nawaqanitawase has played 11 Tests for the Wallabies, he won’t arrive as an answer to the Roosters’ depleted backline this season.

Instead, the Tricolours are desperate to get started on his adaptation to rugby league away from the NRL glare.

“It’s more to get the ability to get him going,” coach Trent Robinson said. 

“I haven’t got an NRL focus for him. I have a transition into rugby league focus and getting training if possible, and playing some reserve grade would be ideal. 

“Then it’s up to him how he adapts. But the focus is definitely not NRL. It’s not next week.”

At most, it is likely Nawaqanitawase will be able to play a maximum of four games in NSW Cup to round out this year.

That would also depend on how quickly the Roosters wanted to get him on the field, after adjusting to the 13-man game in training.

“We’ve got a spot (in the NRL top-30 squad available to do that),” Robinson said. 

“Just to get his feet on the ground and get some understanding, and get a really good view for the pre-season. 

“So it’s like ‘when I did this or that, I should have moved here’. 

“That would really help us adapt through the pre-season for him.”

Meanwhile Michael Jennings looms as the man most likely to replace Joey Manu in the centres, with Tupouniua doing a job playing out of position in the other centre spot against the Tigers.

The Roosters will get Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii back from his suspension after their round-19 bye, while Junior Pauga still has three matches to serve on his ban.

Outside backs Billy Smith (ankle), Robert Toia (knee) and Lewis Murphy (scaphoid) are also still sidelined.