Liam Wright could run out for his native Durban Sharks as part of a unique new Super Rugby Pacific deal with the Queensland Reds.
The co-captain and five-Test Wallabies backrower has been hobbled by injury the last two seasons but, on the comeback from shoulder surgery, still holds hope of selection for next year’s Rugby World Cup squad.
He’s created a back-up plan if that doesn’t eventuate to ensure valuable game time that has been hard to find in Australia since the abolition of the second-tier National Rugby Championship in 2020.
Wright’s flexible two-year deal with the Reds will allow him to sign a medium-term overseas deal in the off-season.
That could see Durban-born Wright land in the United Rugby Championship with the Sharks or another European team for up to five months, while a stint in the rich English Premiership or French Top 14 leagues is also viable.
Wright could even play in New Zealand’s second-tier National Provincial Championship, but says he will give it more thought next year and aim to go where the coaching staff and playing style will best aid his development.
“I didn’t know that was possible,” the 24-year-old said of his innovative new deal.
“For them (Reds coach Brad Thorn and football manager Sam Cordingley) to put that in front of me, brought me in, had a meeting, explained the benefits … I’m really grateful.
“I grew up sort of wanting to represent the Durban Sharks. I don’t think I’ll get the accent back, but it’d be pretty cool.”
Wright’s move is a topical one given Australia’s battles at Test level have been linked to the lack of rugby the country’s best young players are exposed to.
Financial constraints saw the end of the NRC, a breeding ground that fast-tracked Wright and Test teammates Jock Campbell, Fraser McReight and Harry Wilson.
Thorn benefited from it as a coach too, while the recent Australia A initiative has also allowed those on the fringe of a Wallabies call-up valuable game time.
“The beauty of this deal is that if it (World Cup selection) doesn’t come through I’ll get to play more footy somewhere else,” Wright said.