Andrew Johns hits out at rugby over 'laughable' play for Nathan Cleary

Rugby Australia has identified Nathan Cleary and Payne Haas as two NRL superstars they want to target.

Andrew Johns and Nathan Cleary, pictured here in the NRL.
Andrew Johns doesn't think Nathan Cleary will defect to rugby union. Image: Getty

Andrew Johns has described Rugby Australia's play for Nathan Cleary and Payne Haas as 'laughable', saying he believes there is no way the NRL superstars will defect to the rival code. Rugby Australia chair Hamish McLennan revealed on Saturday that Cleary and Haas are on a 'hit-list' of NRL players being targeted by rugby union, following the decision of Roosters young gun Joseph Suaalii to sign with the 15-man code.

Cleary recently made eye-opening comments that he might be open to a switch to rugby union at some stage in the future, which has sparked massive interest from McLennan. “Nathan Cleary wasn’t on the original list as we thought he’d be untouchable, but he said he’d be open to a switch,” McLennan told The Australian.

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“I’d forgotten he’d spent time growing up in New Zealand, so he appreciates the game and gets it. Imagine him running out in front of 85,000 people wearing Wallaby gold at Stade de France. Mind-blowing.”

But according to Johns, McLennan will be left sorely disappointed if Rugby Australia thinks Cleary and Haas will switch. "Payne Haas won't go to rugby," he said on the Sunday Footy Show.

"I see they're chasing Nathan Cleary. Laughable. Why would you want to go and play rugby union? You touch the ball three times.

"Mate, who's the boss? Whatever his name is (McLennan) – everything I see he goes 'Oh, come to union. You're gonna see the world'. Mate, if you want to see the world, I'll pay for a Contiki tour. You'll have more fun. Payne Haas would go over and run the ball three times."

Billy Slater also expresses his doubts that the likes of Cleary and Haas would be tempted by big money offers from Rugby Australia. "What's the temptation to go there? You've got to love the game," Slater said.

"If you love the game you want to go and explore that, well, go and do it. The money's not gonna turn you. It surely can't be a money thing. The money's really good in our game. Our product is the best it's ever been. It's a great entertainment product. It's a great product to play."

Nathan Cleary, pictured here in action for the Penrith Panthers in the NRL.
Nathan Cleary in action for the Penrith Panthers in the NRL. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Billy Slater questions NRL salary cap move to attract players

Slater also questioned comments from ARL commission chairman Peter V'landys that the NRL would be open to giving salary cap dispensations in order to lure players from rugby union and other codes. "I don't know why we would need to have dispensations on salary cap to keep players here or get other players," Slater said.

On Sunday, V'landys told the Sydney Morning Herald: "We have been looking at bringing in salary cap exemptions for players from other countries for some time. It was about bringing in players from America and other nations. It would also apply to players from other sports. And, yes, other sports includes rugby.

"If a Wallaby or an All Black wanted to come over, we'd look at cap exemptions for sure. We have been looking at this for quite a while, and it's a good time to revisit this. It's something I'd like to see come in and come in now."

Last week the NRL got one back on rugby union when Roger Tuivasa-Sheck announced he'd signed a three-year deal to return to the Warriors. The 2018 Dally M medallist left the NRL midway through the 2021 season after signing to move to the Auckland-based Blues.

He made his debut for the All Blacks last year, but will now return to the NRL in 2024. The 29-year-old previously captained the Warriors and played 111 of his 195 NRL matches for them.

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