Is one of the fastest men in rugby league on a fast track to obscurity by switching codes to play for the Melbourne Rebels? Jamie Wall assesses the case of soon-to-be Wallabies winger Marika Koroibete.
Melbourne Storm winger Marika Koroibete won’t actually be going anywhere when he switches codes – the Melbourne Rebels share AAMI Park with the Storm. He is going to have to get used to something different when he plays Super Rugby next year, though. He is going to be playing for a team who are probably not going to be very good.
Actually, make that two teams. Koroibete’s deal with the Australian Rugby Union also includes a place in the Wallabies – he looks set to be selected for their end-of-year Northern Hemisphere tour before playing a game of Super Rugby.
Who is this guy the ARU are taking such a big punt on? The Fijian-born winger started out with an injury-disrupted couple of seasons with the Wests Tigers, and only really began to show his potential after a mid-season move to Melbourne in 2014. He ended the following season as the Storm’s top tryscorer and had earned a reputation for his extreme pace.
There’s this try as evidence. And this one. Valentine Holmes found out he is pretty quick without the ball, too – this incredible cover tackle effort involved almost running from his wing to the posts and back in one play.
But is all this going to translate into success in union, a game he hasn’t played since school?
Koroibete is travelling a well-trodden path for convert Wallaby wingers, with ARU more or less treating the NRL like its outside back development programme. There’s been a fair share of success stories, but about the same amount of busts – for every Israel Folau, there’s a Nathan Blacklock. For every Lote Tuqiri, a Clinton Schifcofske.
Koroibete’s new team, the Rebels, have gone from being a retirement plan for veteran players to being interesting-for-all-the-wrong-reasons to finally settle on being characterised as a plucky, understrength outfit that can produce a few decent players. However, they’re unlikely to be anything more than that next season given Australian rugby’s much-talked about lack of depth.
Obviously money is a big motivator for Koroibete, plus a few trips to South Africa, Argentina and Europe that rugby league wouldn’t be able to provide. Perhaps the key thing to not is that he is only 24, so there’s every chance he could slot right back into the NRL if his move doesn’t work out. As shown with the likes of Jarryd Hayne and Benji Marshall, the transition back can be pretty much instantaneous with no hard feelings.
One thing is for sure though – he can still feel comfortable walking down the street in Melbourne. Given neither the NRL or Super Rugby are actually the one code they really care about in those parts, he can be assured that, whatever happens, people on the street probably won’t give him any sort of hard time.
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