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Carter Gordon's defection makes little difference to the Wallabies in 2024

By John Ferguson
Joe Schmidt and Carter Gordon. Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images for Rugby Australia and Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Australian rugby has lost another Wallaby to rugby league. Carter Gordon, the poster boy of the Wallabies’ 2023 World Cup campaign is stepping away from rugby union.

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He’s inked a two-year deal with the Gold Coast Titans for 2025 and ’26, with the change allowing him to move back to his native Queensland.

“I’m excited with the direction that rugby league is taking and the positive feeling around the game,” Gordon said in a statement upon his announcement.

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“At 23, I feel like I had to take this opportunity now.

“I’ve loved my time with rugby as it’s given me the opportunity to represent my country which I’ll always appreciate.”

The young playmaker has represented the Wallabies eight times and has 46 Super Rugby appearances for the Melbourne Rebels to his name.

His form in his 2023 breakout season caught the eye of the then Wallaby coach Eddie Jones, so much so that Jones hitched his entire World Cup wagon to Gordon.

Jones made a plethora of shock selections throughout the year but most shocking of all may have been selecting Gordon as the only five-eighth to go to France; a player in his rookie international season at his first World Cup.

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Responsibilities were heaped onto Gordon by Jones and many pundits at the time said the young tyro would bear the scars of such a burden.

In 2024, whether by the folding of the Rebels or the scars of 2023, or a combination of the two, those fears appear to have materialised.

He’s had a shaky season for the Rebels, well off the pace he set for himself in the 2023 SRP season.

He’s had a seemingly shot confidence which hasn’t been helped by the pressure of the goal-kicking responsibilities.

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There’s no doubt the young pivot has a mountain of potential with both his speed and physicality almost unmatched by the other playmakers in Australia.

His passing game is also the best amongst the cohort while his mindset for constant improvement has served him well.

So how big is this loss for Rugby Australia? How much does this hurt the Wallabies and the image of rugby in Australia?

The truth is he is departing at a time when there is a plethora of established and budding No.10s in Australia. This group of flyhalves has a four-year window to grow and establish themselves as test-level professionals.

It’s the healthiest depth the position has seen in years.

As far as Wallabies selection goes, new head coach Joe Schmidt requires consistency and that has not been Gordon in 2024.

He finished the Super Rugby season with a goalkicking percentage of 72.3 per cent.

That is almost 11 per cent behind Brumby flyhalf and apparent Wallaby front-runner Noah Lolesio.

It’s not just off the tee where Gordon has struggled, kicks in general play have been poor, with balls being kicked out on the full, past the dead-ball line, and into the in-goal from penalties.

Mistakes that are unacceptable at test-level.

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Schmidt’s thoughts about Wallaby selections when the original rumours about the Gordon-Titans link surfaced in April, drew remarks which were as pragmatic and balanced as ever.

“I had a chat with Carter, much earlier in the season. One of the things Carter is competing for a Wallaby spot, just like a number of the other tens,” Schmidt said.

“There are a number of tens; Tom Lynagh did really well last week I thought, Ben Donaldson’s been going well, and Noah Lolesio is the most consistent of the kickers, certainly at goal.

“One of the things about having players who may or may not leave, and while it’s written about often, it’s a lot more often may not leave, than actually end up leaving.

“So I’d love Carter to stay and to be in the mix for the Wallabies. But if he doesn’t, then I’m excited about working with the next guy, or whoever we do select in that position.”

It’s the kind of answer you’d expect from a coach who is currently on an 18-month timeline and planning for what is expected to be a blockbuster British and Irish Lions tour in the middle of 2025.

Schmidt isn’t the type, nor does he have the time to pick players purely based on potential.

He needs consistent performers who are one hundred percent committed to the Wallaby jersey and rugby in Australia.

Lolesio showed his hand when he announced a one-year extension with the ACT Brumbies and Rugby Australia the same day Gordon announced his move to rugby league.

It’s a sliding doors moment for the two youngsters, coming off the back of two vastly different 12 months.

In 2023, Gordon enjoyed all the fanfare and accolades as well as a spot in Jones’ World Cup squad, while Lolesio was overlooked by Jones entirely despite having a good season.

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Another player who has moved around to stay in Australian rugby is Western Force playmaker Ben Donaldson.

Although he’s garnered a little less attention this season, his move west has been a good one.

Donaldson is the incumbent Wallaby flyhalf after he was picked as a utility by Jones for the World Cup but ended up replacing Gordon in the No.10 jersey midway through the tournament.

A new year, with a new coach and new manager of high performance means the competition for the coveted Wallabies no.10 jersey was always going to be tough.

Had Gordon stayed in union, it’s understood he was likely to join the Waratahs in 2025 where he would’ve been competing for a starting spot against another rising playmaker in Tane Edmed.

But Gordon’s desire to move back to his home state of Queensland to be closer to family tarnished the idea of moving to Daceyville.

The Queensland Reds were not an option due to their lineup of young flyhalves.

At just 23 years of age, Gordon has the world ahead of him, having showed great potential in rugby.

At Super level he’s proved a handy player but has left much to be desired at test-level.

What is also a shame is the amount of money, resources, and precious game-time at a World Cup which has been put into Gordon only to have those benefits reaped elsewhere.

That’s a true tragedy.

It may look like Rugby Australia has dropped the ball again, but the reality is an unproven player has chosen to leave the game at a time when the game must be fiscally responsible.

It’s understood both RA and the Titans offered Gordon something in the ballpark of $300,000 a season.

In a period as crucial for the game in Australia as this, the governing body certainly can’t afford players who want to leave the sport altogether.

It’ll be a situation of ‘what could have been’ but with the Lions tour and the World Cup knocking on the door, rugby in Australia can only afford to throw their support behind those who want to play rugby.

At a time when rugby in Australia is shrinking in size to grow in strength, depth will be crucial: Gordon’s departure luckily won’t create a void, as RA looks ahead to a more positive future.

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Comments

11 Comments
s
swivel 32 days ago

Love that photo it’s classic

J
Jon 33 days ago

“I’m excited with the direction that rugby league is taking and the positive feeling around the game,”

What direction is this? Expansion? It’s a smart call by Carter, he is not a rugby 5eight but he could be a great league 5eight. If his two years go well the expansion clubs will looking to offer much bigger paydays to such players.

Have to think RA low balled him. Supply and demand. He’d at least be worth 350-400k in union for abench role, surely? Now RA can both save a bunch of money and retain more players. You have to look at the positives, even if we all want Australia to all their top talent like the Meafou’s, Hansens, Lynaghs.

N
Nick 33 days ago

Sorry john but a strong disagree on this one from your usual high standards. Carter is a quality player and clear 2nd in line for the 10 jersey. 10 is also not a position of depth for australia. Having 3-4 players all on even pegging doesn’t mean we have depth, it means we have 3-4 inexperienced players that aren’t ready for the step up - just ask rennie who had to send an SOS to Foley and Quade. If noah gets injured, we are up a creek without a paddle imo. Noah and Carter are the only international level 10s we currently have with donaldson yet to prove he is a 10 and tane, lynagh and HMP much too young. Carter should’ve been supported in a move to the reds where he would start at 10 and lynagh off the bench. Creighton is off to japan and JOC is on the way out, even the reds don’t have great depth at 10. The question is how come gordon was treated so poorly over a 2 year period that going to the wooden spoon titans was an improvement for him!? I really don’t think much more than an arm around his shoulders from the likes of waugh and schmidt at some point during the year might have been enough to keep him in union. What a waste indeed but don’t bundle it on carter, put it on RA.

j
john 33 days ago

Carter Gordon is the best prospect at 10 we have by a long shot. It’s a disaster for Australian rugby. As is Rodda leaving. As is Kurtley Beale being part of the Wallaby squad.
I told you kiwi coaches set out to sabotage the Wallabies and here you have it in black and white. Beale, ffs.

B
Beaudy 34 days ago

“The truth is he is departing at a time when there is a plethora of established and budding No.10s in Australia.
It’s the healthiest depth the position has seen in years.”

Noah is decent and donaldson is very inexperienced. JOC hasnt played well for a while.

Schmidt rather wont pick players from abroad.

So im supprised that you came to this conclusion.

m
mitch 34 days ago

If he’d gone to the Broncos you’d think great club but he’s gone to the worst club in the comp. He’s one injury away from being yesterday’s hero. But good luck to him, don’t think he’s chosen well but time will tell.

d
dave 34 days ago

Good luck to him. Good to wash the Jones stench off him. I thought the young 10 the Tahs played in the last match looked highly promising, last kick aside. Probably more so than Edmed.

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