Koroibete: Cheika Didn’t Promise Anything
Marika Koroibete says he wasn’t promised a Wallabies spot by Michael Cheika when recruited from the NRL but now he’s got one, the flying Fijian doesn’t expect to play on the Spring Tour. Koroibete flew out of Sydney with the Wallabies last Friday on their five-Test tour of Europe, less than a month after he finished up for the Melbourne Storm in the NRL grand final.
The selection of the 24-year-old in the Wallabies’ 32-man squad has been contentious, with critics saying Koroibete should have earned a spot in Super Rugby first. Some suspect Koroibete was promised a tour spot when negotiating his switch back to rugby and Koroibete indicated as much last month when he said Cheika told him he’d be going on the Spring Tour prior to signing with the Rebels. But talking at Sydney Airport before leaving with the Wallabies squad, Koroibete said Cheika “didn’t promise me anything.” “He asked me if I wanted to come to rugby union,” Koroibete said. “There was nothing about the Australian side. It was about coming to Super Rugby and if I wanted to change, and it was my dream to play Super Rugby, so I thought: ‘why not?’
“As a little boy growing up in Fiji, I always wanted to play Super Rugby.”
Cheika rejected the idea of giving Koroibete a Wallabies debut if he hadn’t earned it, and indicated the winger was on the tour more to relearn rugby and get up to speed with the Wallabies’ systems and his new teammates. Koroibete has the same view, saying he doesn’t expect to get on the field. “I am not expecting a game,” he said.
“I am expecting to just train as hard as I can, and try to impress the coaching staff and see how I go from there.
“It’s really hard, to come from the NRL straight to the Wallabies. I haven’t played a game since high school. This will be a big challenge for me. This tour is all about just trying to learn as much as I can. I have been watching Super Rugby since I was young. It has changed a lot now. I still watching today. I know a little bit about it.”
Koroibete is highly likely to get at least one game on tour — a midweek clash for Australia A against the French Barbarians. And knowing Cheika, it is not unfeasible that Koroibete could sneak onto the end of a bench for a Test at some point.
The Wallabies’ try-scoring strike rate has nosedived massively this year, particularly out wide. Koroibete’s recruitment was targeted given a perceived lack of wingers with pure speed and finishing class. Wallabies back coach Stephen Larkham said it was clear Koroibete could bring some attacking xfactor to Australian rugby.
“Definitely, and that’s the reason why Cheik worked so hard to get him back to rugby,” he said. “He’s obviously very talented with ball in hand but he is a very tough player as well. I think that is what we will see.
“We have a couple of good wingers in the squad with him; a couple of good Fijians, Sef (Naivalu) and Henry (Speight), out on the wing. So it is going to be good competition out in those wide channels. They’re all quality players and they’ll all be competing for those spots.”
Larkham said Koroibete’s first challenge would be fitting into the Wallabies squad and their on-field structures. A strong Fijian subculture in the Wallabies will be a big help for both adjustments, with former school mate Navailu, and Speight and Tevita Kuridrani, also on hand. “He certainly has that background in rugby union,” Larkham said. “There’s not much different when you are playing on the wing in rugby league to rugby union. There will be a few more patterns and slight changes from set-piece that he will have to get his head around.
“But fitting in with the guys first, and just getting opportunity is all he needs really.”
Former NRL star Marika Koroibete being interviewed at Sydney airport before leaving for the Wallabies Spring Tour.