It seems that two of the highest profile Australasian rugby league converts are set to return to their home countries, to make pushes for their respective national’s teams in time to represent both the All Blacks and Wallabies for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
For Australia, it seems very likely that Mark Gasnier will be back home this year, with his Stade Francais contract set to expire at season’s end (approximately the middle of the year).
Gasnier—the former St George, New South Wales Origin and Kangaroo’s player—has expressed interest in returning home, with some sources stating that the ARU has actually tabled an offer to the nephew of rugby league Immortal Reg Gasnier.
However, Stade Francais will not let go of their star back without a fight, with the league convert becoming a fine union player in his time with the Paris based club. Rival French clubs Bayonne and Biarritz are also chasing his signature.
But it is believed that the lure of a World Cup in 2011 could be the deciding factor, as well as potentially being a marquee player for the new Super 15 team the Melbourne Rebels.
The Queensland Reds would also be an option, with their current coach Ewen McKenzie the driving force behind getting Gasnier to Stade two years ago.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans would be keen to have Gasnier in his side. Stirling Mortlock is no longer the incumbent outside centre for Australia, and while Ryan Cross and Adam Ashley Cooper have played there of late, neither has cemented the role.
Gasnier has played at 12, 13 and 15 for his French club.
"Clearly he is a very capable athlete," said Deans.
"If Mark is interested and does come back, from the ARU perspective he would be available to all the franchises and would be just like any other player in the market."
For Sonny Bill Williams, it is less certain.
He has expressed on numerous occasions that he is keen to become an All Black, and comes off contract with Toulon at the end of this season as well.
Like Gasnier, Williams appeal would extend off field, with the former Bulldogs league star being high profile and his signing would generate a priceless amount of attention and publicity.
He has been solid at centre, although some believe he would be better suited in the loose forwards.
However, New Zealand rugby has stated in the past that they are not interested in mercenaries, and would expect a firm commitment from Williams. If Williams’ intent is to come in to try for national selection before heading off-shore again, then the NZRU would likely not be very flexible to that idea.
His history, with the former kiwi international league player walking out on the Canterbury Bulldogs with no explanation, could be a factor against him.