The four-year Rugby World Cup cycle influences nearly everything in the game, from team planning to rights deals to player movement. With just over 12 months to go, a number of players will make decisions on their future in the coming year for 2020 and beyond. With a number of guys deciding to go a year early like Lima Sopoaga and Seta Tamanivalu, many more announcements will come in the next year.
Whilst some players will find a way to stay in their home nations, many will look offshore for a career payday. As the All Black jersey commands the most on the open market, we consider five New Zealand players who will be a flight risk post-Japan.
The mid-field master has dealt with a series of concerning head knocks this season which has seen the Crusaders midfielder spend extended time on the sidelines. His commitment to New Zealand paid off after spending years behind the unbreakable partnership of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, becoming a valuable part of the All Blacks setup.
2019 will be his first World Cup as a key player and it’s been a step-by-step approach to get there. His contracts have been one-year extensions, inching towards the showpiece event but once it’s over he will be 31-years old. With New Zealand’s next generation centre stocks looking strong and injury concerns pressing, Crotty will likely head North after the Cup.
The younger Savea presents a pre and post-Cup flight risk. His two-year extension signed in 2016 only secures him until the end of this year. He is currently unsigned for 2019 with no news yet confirming otherwise. If he does commit for one more season, he will be just 26-years-old when the Rugby World Cup finishes.
There is one clear reason he may leave – Sam Cane. Cane has been the heir to McCaw starting nearly the tests at Openside since the legend retired in 2015. That presents a problem for the Hurricanes flank. While he has years ahead of him to play in the black jersey, those appearances will likely be from the bench with no guarantees of competition for the starting role.
With Cane also rumoured to be the next All Blacks captain, Savea may look at his options overseas. At 24-years-old in the prime of his athletic ability, he may command over a million per year in Euros or Pounds, making a move to Europe very attractive.
The All Blacks could lose both midfielders with Sonny Bill Williams entering the twilight years of his career. Renown for taking on new challenges and new codes, Williams will most definitely assess his options following the World Cup.
His three-year deal signed in 2016 will expire at the end of 2019 and he will be 34-years-old. A move back to the NRL seems unlikely but a reunion with Toulon in the south of France might just be the way Williams wants to go out.
His three years at the club from 2008-2010 concluded with no silverware, and Williams has always strived for team glory. With two World Cup winners medals, two Super Rugby titles, two NRL premierships to his name he may look to compete for a Top 14 title and a Champions Cup with the French Galacticos.
Toulon’s owner has always expressed a desire to bring Williams back and has gone on record stating “As long as I am president of RCT, I will try to bring back Sonny Bill to Toulon.”
The explosive outside back was a bolter in 2015 that took the world by storm, from obscurity to the World Cup in one year. Since then he has had a host of setbacks, with long-term injuries keeping the fan favourite from building on his promising start.
He inked a two-year extension last year to stay until the end of 2019 and has fought his way back into the All Black fold for next years World Cup but may look for long-term security after it.
He has expressed his passion for Manuwatu and the Hurricanes but after the last few years, no one could hold it against him for taking an overseas offer. He will be 29-years-old at the end of 2019.
The world’s best player is the NZR’s number one signing priority and may be thought of as a given to re-sign. However, he is still off-contract after 2019 and there are a series of unprecedented circumstances evolving that add some risk to Barrett leaving, however small that risk may be.
Firstly, reports of a potential NZD$10 million deal over three years by a French club would make Barrett the highest paid player in the world. Thought to be on a million a year currently, it is not known how much the NZR could counter-offer but it would be a stretch to match that. Everyone has a price and the disparity could become a problem.
He will be 28-years-old after the World Cup, and whilst he could make the next one at 32-years-old it could be McKenzie or Mo’unga’s time in the 10 jersey. Carter made it as a 35-year-old but had evolved his game to rely less on a running game, whereas Barrett’s speed is his number one weapon and will likely decline by 2023.
Barrett turned down huge money from the Northern Hemisphere in 2016, just as he took over as the number one 10 in the country. He professed a love for Taranaki, the Hurricanes and the All Blacks which he confirmed ‘is the reason’ he plays rugby.
It would be hard to imagine Barrett not sticking around, but it cannot be ruled out as unprecedented offers hit his table. For what it is worth, I believe the All Blacks 10 jersey will be too hard for Barrett to let go, as well as playing alongside his brothers in the New Zealand side.
Watch every match of the June and November Internationals streaming live on RugbyPass, home of the world's best global rugby coverage including news, highlights, previews & reviews, fantasy, live stats, and more!