Lote Tuqiri says he would take a pay cut to play rugby league again
By Stuart Honeysett and Brent Read
August 08, 2009 Sacked Wallaby Lote Tuqiri has offered to take a huge pay cut to resurrect his career in the NRL, prompting several clubs including Wests Tigers and Sydney Roosters to express interest in his services next season.
Tuqiri’s future has been up in the air since the Australian Rugby Union sacked him last month for breaching team protocols.
That shock decision prompted Tuqiri to launch a damages claim against the ARU for unfair dismissal, the first instalment of which was heard on Friday in the NSW Supreme Court.
The Australian reported this week that Tuqiri was poised to join French Top 14 club Bayonne, which had approached the Wallabies star when he was under contract to the ARU and the New South Wales Waratahs.
The French club is home to several Australians: rugby league convert Craig Gower and former Wallabies Rodney Blake and Manny Edmonds.
However, with any move towards French rugby laced with ramifications for a possible damages payout, Tuqiri’s best option might be to return to rugby league - a code he made his name in with the Brisbane Broncos from 1999 to 2001.
Asked if he was serious about playing rugby league again and whether he would take a pay cut to play in the NRL, Tuqiri told the Nine Network on Friday night: "Yep. I’m prepared to take a pay cut.
“My family is quite settled here now. We like Sydney. We like Australia. We don’t want to move and uproot.”
Tuqiri denied he had entered into an agreement with Bayonne.
His manager Les Ross is understood to have applied to become an accredited NRL agent. Under NRL rules, managers are unable to negotiate with clubs until they become accredited.
Although his application is yet to be heard, it is expected to be ratified, clearing the way for Ross to begin negotiations on Tuqiri’s behalf.
Already, the Roosters and Tigers have indicated interest in talking to Tuqiri. Roosters recruitment manager Peter O’Sullivan declined to give a definite answer but would not rule out talks with Tuqiri.
Tigers recruitment manager Warren McDonnell was more definite. “He’s one of the best wingers to play in recent memory,” he said.
“Of course we would take him. I would be surprised if any club wouldn’t want him, especially if it was cheap.”
Tuqiri has offered to take a pay cut, but his drop in income would be large because most NRL clubs have spent their salary cap for next season. Any deal in France would dwarf what he could earn in Australia.
His decision could affect his court hearing because any damages claim could be mitigated if his earning potential was not severely affected. Time will tell how genuine Tuqiri is in his desire to play NRL, given the financial impact.
He is expected to play club rugby for West Harbour against Warringah at Pittwater Rugby Park next Saturday.
“Lote wants to play for the club,” president Bob Ellis said. "Unlike Timana Tahu, who was contracted, Lote has played for West Harbour on a handshake deal.
"I say again, Lote hasn’t a contract to play for us in the Shute Shield competition.
“He’s a good bloke and you wouldn’t find anyone around the club who has a bad word to say about him.”
Tuqiri’s fight to clear his name will resume on Monday when three judges of the NSW Court of Appeal will hear legal argument as to why sensitive ARU documents related to his sacking shouldn’t be made public.
The former Wallabies and NSW winger’s reputed $1 million a year contract with the ARU was torn up on July 1.
The ARU has steadfastly refused to reveal publicly the grounds for his sacking.
-Additional reporting: Peter Kogoy