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What a stacked Wallabies XV for 2025 looks like after successful NRL raids

By Ben Smith
Nathan Cleary of the Panthers in a Wallabies jersey. (Original photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The successful coup of former rugby union schoolboy star Joseph Suaalii on a three-year deal from 2025 is possibly the first domino to fall into place for Rugby Australia.

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With more rugby league targets thrown up in the air by Rugby Australia boss Hamish McLennan and rumours of approaches by NRL players about potential switches, Suaallii feels like the first of many who will chase Wallaby gold.

What could the Wallabies look like by the time the British & Irish Lions tour takes place should Rugby Australia successfully pull off more raids?

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This potential XV is the ‘best case’ scenario for the Wallabies after raiding league of the top targets.

15. Joseph Suaalii 

The Roosters convert comes with a hefty price tag at $1.6million per season that guarantees he will play either fullback or centre in order to get his hands on the ball. Israel Folau ended up in the No 15 jersey after starting out on the right wing, but Suaalii will likely play at the back immediately.

Suaalii’s athletic gifts will be well suited to the backfield where he can be free to return kicks with a lot of space and launch counter-attacks.

Depth: Max Jorgensen, Jordan Petaia

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14. Suliasi Vunivalu

A league convert who hasn’t been able to consistently stay healthy since making the code switch, there is still time for Vunivalu to make his mark.

If Eddie Jones can get the best out of the flying Fijian, the Wallabies will have a deadly finisher on the right wing who brings size to the position. He will be 29 when the Lions arrive, which is younger than star wing Marika Koroibete is now. There is still time for Vunivalu to realise his potential in Australian rugby.

Depth: Tom Wright, Andrew Kellaway

13. Len Ikitau 

The current Wallabies centre is one of the best players in the world at the position and is a certainty for the Lions tour should he remain healthy. The Brumbies No 13 has signed a two-year deal to remain in Australia until the end of 2025 and will still be 26 years old when the Lions arrive. He is a lock to remain the Wallabies centre for years to come.

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Depth: Josh Flook, Izaia Perese

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12. Cameron Murray

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The Rabbitohs lock has extended his contract with the NRL club until the end of 2025 and has indicated he won’t talk about other options until then.

But in a ‘best case’ scenario for Rugby Australia, Murray would backflip on his decision and his NRL contract is bought out by Rugby Australia, allowing for a code switch before the Lions series.

Eddie Jones identified Murray as one of the top players he would like to see switch codes and would likely find a way into the No 12 jersey should he do so.

Depth: Hunter Paisami, Lalakai Foketi, Samu Kerevi

11. Mark Nawaqanitawase

The 22-year-old will be hitting his prime when the British & Irish Lions touring squad arrives. The 6 ft 4 wing will be a serious problem if he can polish up his game and realise the potential he illustrated against Wales in Cardiff last year on debut. Big, strong, and a tall option under the high ball, Nawaqanitawase can beat out the other prospects in Australia for the left wing berth.

10. Nathan Cleary 

The grand heist for Rugby Australia would be to land the crown jewel of rugby league, Penrith Panthers halfback and Blues Origin star Nathan Cleary. The playmaker has the best kicking game in the NRL and his signature would bring a world-class talent into a position of need for the Wallabies.

The biggest roadblock to a Cleary move is the contract extension the NRL star received from the Panthers until 2027. Rugby Australia will have to move mountains to pry him away from the NRL.

The Cleary-to-rugby deal is very much a long shot with almost no chance of happening.

Depth: Carter Gordon, Noah Lolesio

9. Tate McDermott

The Queensland Reds halfback will be 26 when the Lions arrive and will easily be the most experienced option at No 9 available. His recent omission from the Wallabies camp won’t stop this talent from making his way back. He is still the frontrunner to start during the Lions series.

Depth: Ryan Lonergan, Jake Gordon

Eddie Jones' potential Wallabies

8. Payne Haas 

Eddie Jones will be having visions of Toutai Kefu 2.0 if Rugby Australia is able to snare the rugby league prop. The man is a machine who would be asked to carry off the back of the scrum all day. The short lineout would allow Haas to hit plenty of crash balls in the midfield and decimate undersized international midfields.

His biggest learning curve will be getting his head around the set-piece playbook and understanding lineout schemes. Few league forwards become union forwards, with the likes of Sam Burgess and Sonny Bill Williams becoming No 12s.

Depth: Langi Gleeson, Harry Wilson, Vaiolini Ekuasi

7. Fraser McReight

The Queensland Reds openside will likely be the starting No 7 by the time the Lions tour rolls around. Michael Hooper is off-contract after 2023 and that is likely be his final fling on the international stage, opening the door for a new Wallaby openside.

McReight is a turnover machine who is the best poacher in Australia with 10 caps to his name. He is destined to wear Wallaby gold for some time to come.

Depth: Luke Reimer

6. Rod Valetini

The best ball-carrier in Australia currently, Valetini is already so central to many of the Wallabies’ attacking plans. The 24 year old was rewarded with a four-year extension this year to keep the loose forward at home until 2027. He is bound to start somewhere across the backrow and if the Haas deal eventuates, the two of them will form the most damaging carrying unit in world rugby.

Depth: Harry Wilson, Lachlan Swinton

5. Will Skelton

The ‘best case’ for Rugby Australia is to get Will Skelton home or available as one of the three quota players. No league convert will offer what Skelton can in the second row. He will be 33 years old in 2025 with plenty to offer against the Lions. The bruising lock adds refined size to the Wallabies pack and another strong ball carrying option to bulldoze through and over red jerseys.

Depth: Trevor Hosea, Miles Amatosero

4. Darcy Swain

The Wallabies will need a top lineout target and Swain is the top candidate. He will be 27 when the tour begins and the Brumbies lock is the tall timber they need. A physically demanding player, Swain is the combative type on the pitch to fire up the Wallabies.

Depth: Nick Frost, Taleni Seu

3. Allan Alaalatoa

The veteran prop has committed to Rugby Australia on a long-term deal until the end of 2027. The cornerstone of the Wallaby scrum, Alaalatoa will likely start and play 50 minutes with powerhouse tighthead Taniela Tupou coming off the bench in the second half for the final 30.

Depth: Taniela Tupou, Harry Johnson-Holmes

2. Lachlan Lonergan 

The Brumbies rake is only 23 and has 8 caps to his name. It makes sense to use the hooker with a Brumbies-heavy forward pack as the combinations are already there. With Folau Fainga’a moving to the Western Force, Lonergan has the time to forge chemistry in the lineout to become the Wallabies’ number one option at hooker. By 2025, he likely will be.

Depth: Mahe Vailanu, Folau Fainga’a

1. Angus Bell

The Waratahs prop has been through a tough patch of injuries, succumbing to a foot issue for the second year running. He is just 22 however, with plenty of time to mature and become Australia’s premier loosehead. When healthy he is one of the most dynamic props in Australia with an all-round game to rely on.

Depth: Matt Gibbon

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