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Fears over future of Wallabies as young trio switch allegiance to Japan

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Young midfielder Dylan Riley has become the third Australian-raised player in his Japan Top League team to declare their allegiance to the Brave Blossoms in a worrying trend for Australian rugby.


The former Australian under 20 representative has turned his back on his homeland and is targeting Japan national selection for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

And he’s not alone with two other Australian flankers in his Panasonic Wild Knights team – Jack Cornelsen, the son of former Wallabies flanker Greg – and Ben Gunter also defecting.

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“I’m currently working through the eligibility criteria but at the end of the day it comes down to whether you’re playing good footy,” Riley told AAP.

He said it was initially hard to turn his back on Australian rugby but felt Japan was now his home and his future.

“I’ve grown my game and met new people, I’ve grown into loving Japan and I’ve made a decision on staying here,” the 23-year-old said.

“My family have stuck with me the whole way so they’re just happy to see my living out a dream.”


Wallabies coach Dave Rennie recently said he feared for the long-term future of Australian rugby, unable to compete with the huge money on offer in Japan.

Melbourne flyer Marika Koroibete is set to be the next big name to leave Australia for Japan for a multi-million dollar payday.

There are 30 Australians set to play in the 16-team competition this season – with Wallabies captain Michael Hooper among 10 of those who have played in the green and gold at senior level.

But it’s not just test stars being targeted, with rising prospects like Riley shifting his career overseas.


Riley was playing with Brisbane City in the NRC in 2017 with no Super Rugby contract on the horizon when the Panasonic Wild Knights, with former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans as head coach, came calling.

While he went overseas for an opportunity rather than money, the financial security the Japan competition provides is a lure.

“I didn’t really have any opportunities back home and this came up to come to Japan and play under an awesome coach Robbie Deans so I took it,” Riley said.

“I thought Japan was the best opportunity I had at the time to grow my rugby and I took it and have loved it ever since.

“It’s quite hard in Australia if people are looking to go back, although it’s not something I’ve wanted to do.”

Riley predicted more to follow his path without the National Rugby Championship to bridge the gap between club rugby and Super Rugby after the third-tier competition was disbanded.


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