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‘Few boys have been looking’: Cortez Ratima reveals if he’d consider NRL switch

By Finn Morton
Cortez Ratima of Waikato warms up during the Bunnings Warehouse NPC Quarter Final match between Wellington and Waikato at Sky Stadium, on October 07, 2023, in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

It’s been a big month or so for the international game of rugby union. Wallaby Mark Nawaqanitawase and Wales’ Louis Rees-Zammit have both penned deals elsewhere.

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But what’s most concerning is that they might not be the last to go. On Wednesday morning in Australia, it was revealed that rival codes were interested in Jordan Petaia.

Japanese rugby clubs, a Queensland NRL side and the NFL International Player Pathway Program are all circling for Petaia’s signature, while Rugby Australia is also in the mix.

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Whether the 31-Test Wallaby remains in Australian rugby beyond this year remains to be seen, but it’s clear that other sports are vying for some of international rugby’s best talent.

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Even Henry Arundell, who scored five tries on his Rugby World Cup debut in France last year, was linked with a move to the NRL. The battle to retain talent is fierce.

Towards the end of an exclusive interview with All Blacks hopeful Cortez Ratima, the halfback began to talk about “the chat around the NRL.”

“Few boys have been looking to go over there,” Ratima told RugbyPass. But when asked if he was referring to Chiefs players, the rising star clarified he was talking about “general” chatter within rugby.

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But before a ball is kicked in Super Rugby Pacific in 2024 – with many expecting Ratima to push for All Blacks honours this year – the scrum-half revealed whether he’d consider an NRL switch.

“I don’t even know, aye,” Ratima told RugbyPass. “If the opportunity came I guess I’d have to have a think about it.”

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Even the idea of losing Ratima to a rival code is a tough pill for All Blacks fans to swallow. With no Aaron Smith, many consider the Chiefs halfback to push for an international debut in 2024.

Cam Roigard appears to be a step ahead in the race for the All Blacks’ No. 9 jersey after impressing at the World Cup and winning the pre-season Bronco earlier this month.

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Blues halfback Finlay Christie and the Highlanders’ Folau Fakatava are also in the running, while the Crusaders’ Mitchell Drummond would be considered an outside chance.

“That’s always gonna be the ultimate goal for myself. That’s the pinnacle of New Zealand rugby and where every nine wants to be,” Ratima said.

“I don’t know what you’re doing if you don’t want to be an All Black.

“That’s 100 per cent always the goal heading into this year, also obviously the goals of winning a Super Rugby championship title, being the number nine come round one, they’re all goals.

“Just pretty much gonna do what I can, park them up (and) have them in eyesight but try and live in the now and do what I can and take it one step at a time.”

But before the Test season rolls around, Super Rugby Pacific is just under one month away. Ratima’s Chiefs will kick off their new era in a grand final rematch at home against the Crusaders.

With no Brad Weber to call on, the No. 9 jumper at the Hamilton-based franchise is there for the taking. Xavier Roe and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi will likely battle it out for the bench spot.

The Chiefs, who were beaten in last year’s decider, are also missing their other 2023 co-captain Sam Cane. Cane has taken a sabbatical with New Zealand Rugby and is currently playing in Japan’s star-studded Rugby League One competition.

“It is a massive loss,” Cortez explained when asked about the absence of Cane and Weber.

“I think we’ve lost 600 Chiefs caps this year. It is a bit scary but it’s also an opportunity for some of the boys that have been there for four, five years now to take that leadership role and try and step into those shoes of leading the team.

“I don’t actually know who’s going to be the leaders this year.

“There’s honestly the excitement of how many boys are gonna get an opportunity this year with so many fellas leaving. Just excited to see where we go really.”

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Poorfour 4 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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