New Zealand

TJ Perenara switch would be a ‘big risk’, says code-hopping All Black Craig Innes

One of the last All Blacks to leave rugby for league says TJ Perenara’s potential move to the NRL would be a “big risk”.

All Blacks halfback Perenara is considering a shock move away from rugby to join the Sydney Roosters, one of league’s most successful clubs, according to TVNZ.

The 29-year-old is off-contract with New Zealand Rugby (NZR) at the end of the year and is currently in Japan on a one-season deal with the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes.

Could TJ Perenara be joining the Sydney Roosters?

Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

Could TJ Perenara be joining the Sydney Roosters?

NZR has declined to comment on Perenara’s future, while Hurricanes chief executive Avan Lee has told NZME that Perenara has indicated he wants to re-sign through to the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

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His reported interest in a code switch means a new deal with NZR and the Hurricanes is more uncertain, but former All Black Craig Innes said it would be tough for Perenara to transition from rugby to league at this stage of his career.

“It was a surprise to hear,” Innes told Stuff. “I can think of guys who would probably transition pretty well, and he is not one who would spring to mind straight away.

“There’s no doubt he’s a bloody good footballer, but rugby league is a very different game and playing in the NRL, he’d be doing bloody well to make a real impression.”

Innes had similar reservations last year when All Blacks loose forward Ardie Savea expressed an interest in playing league, something neither Perenara nor Savea have any experience of at an elite level.

In the 21st century, there is no trace of an elite men’s player with no professional background in league making a successful transition from rugby.

Former All Blacks Craig Innes (left, with Bruce Sharrock, right) left rugby for league in 1992.

David White/Stuff

Former All Blacks Craig Innes (left, with Bruce Sharrock, right) left rugby for league in 1992.

Now a director at Esportif, a management company for players in both codes, Innes played 17 tests for the All Blacks from 1989-91 before his switch to league in 1992.

He spent five years in the 13-a-side code with Leeds in England, the Western Reds and Manly in Australia, before finishing his career in rugby with the Blues.

Perenara, a 69-test All Black, would likely be a hooker in league because it’s the most similar to halfback, his position in the 15-a-side code, but Innes said the roles are also totally different.

“I’ve always compared the two games to netball and basketball,” he said.

“You’re talking about different running lines and the kick and chase in rugby league, as opposed to the different skill set for rugby union.

“They’re similar in some ways, hooker [in league] and halfback [in rugby], but also very different at the same time.

TJ Perenara has played 69 tests for the All Blacks.

Chris Hyde/Getty Images

TJ Perenara has played 69 tests for the All Blacks.

“I look at the sniping aspect of TJ’s running game, it could go well in rugby league, but reading the game, in that position, you’re calling the shots with your halves, you’re doing a lot of the thinking, and it’s tough if you don’t really know the game.”

Innes had never played a game of league before his Leeds debut in 1992 but said the transition from rugby was easier than the other way around.

He switched codes when rugby was amateur and league was a pathway All Blacks went down for professional contracts in the UK or Australia.

That trend reversed dramatically once rugby went professional in 1995.

Rugby’s financial and commercial muscle would soon dwarf rugby league globally, offering more lucrative contracts for athletes with the skills and strength to prosper in either game.

Innes said Perenara’s wage would be another issue because of the NRL’s strict salary cap rules.

“There are big risks, especially when they’re further along in their careers. You can get a younger guy, who transitions, and you’ve got time.

“Then there’s the big money these guys are on, especially with a salary cap, and you want to be reasonably guaranteed they’re going to be a success.

“Look, he might want to give it a crack. It would be interesting, I’m not criticising if he is serious, but it’s a big job.”

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