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‘It’s true’: Ex-NRL & Origin prop ‘thought about’ rugby after chat with Eddie Jones

By Finn Morton
Tevita Pangai Junior of the Blues looks on after defeat during game one of the 2023 State of Origin series between the Queensland Maroons and New South Wales Blues at Adelaide Oval on May 31, 2023 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Former New South Wales Blues enforcer Tevita Pangai Junior has revealed he “definitely thought about going to rugby” after Eddie Jones approached the State of Origin prop last year.

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Pangai Junior, 27, was reportedly set to earn about $750,000 in 2024 with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs before quitting the NRL last August to pursue a full-time boxing career.

It was no secret that then-Wallabies coach Eddie Jones – who has since resigned and penned a deal with Japan – had an interest in bringing some of the NRL’s best players to Australian rugby union.

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Sydney Roosters flyer Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii was signed to a big-money deal last year, and Jones mentioned South Sydney lock Cameron Murray more than once by name. But News Corp has reported that Jones was also interested in Pangai Junior, who he approached “just a few days” after the forward quit the Bulldogs.

“It’s true I spoke to Eddie Jones,” Pangai Junior said.

“He was pretty keen to sign me, he told me to watch some footage of games and I mentioned to him that I had played No. 8 and liked watching (former Wallabies) Toutai Kefu and Willie Ofahengaue.

“I definitely thought about going to rugby. There’s the Lions tour and the World Cup coming up.

“I played rugby union as a kid, so I know the game, but I had told the Bulldogs I wanted to test myself in boxing and I wanted to stick to my word.”

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But Pangai Junior is instead nearing a return to the NRL with his former club the Brisbane Broncos. Pangai Junior was pictured watching on at Broncos training last month and News Corp understands that he’s spoken with the club about a possible return on a short-term deal.

That means that, at least at this stage, the only NRL star who has signed a marquee deal in rugby is Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii. The Samoa rugby league international will switch codes after the 2024 NRL season.

But, unfortunately for Australian rugby, a key player is going the other way, too. Wallabies wing Mark Nawaqanitawase has signed on with the Sydney Roosters on a two-year deal from 2025.

“I’ve been here at the Tahs and around Rugby Australia for the past five years so it’s been everything,” 11-Test Wallaby Nawaqanitawase told Nine News last month.

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“It’s going to be sad walking away.

“It was a tough decision to make but at the time I had to do what was right for me.

“I just want to win,” he added. “I just want to win some games and I’d love to win a World Cup if I get the chance.”

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