Rugby Australia boss Phil Waugh says the door "absolutely" remains open for Mark Nawaqanitawase to continue wearing the gold jumper in 2024 despite the dynamic winger confirming his defection to the NRL.
Nawaqanitawase, who has won 11 caps for Australia since making his international rugby debut on last year's spring tour of Europe, will join the Sydney Roosters on a two-year deal from 2025.
The loss of one of their brightest rising stars is a major blow for RA at a time when the code is under increasing scrutiny following a hugely disappointing World Cup campaign.
News of Nawaqanitawase's impending code switch was followed by a Sydney Morning Herald report that Eddie Jones was interviewed for the Japan coaching job in Tokyo on Thursday, just weeks after resigning from the Wallabies post less than a year into his five-year contract.
RA has yet to decide who will succeed Jones as Wallabies boss, but among the new coach's first big calls will be how to handle the Nawaqanitawase situation in 2024.
"He's not dead to the Wallabies at all. Absolutely not," Waugh told AAP on Thursday.
"I'm just saying we have depth in outside backs coming through."
The code switch will prevent Nawaqanitawase from facing the British and Irish Lions in 2025.
In announcing Nawaqanitawase's impending departure, RA thanked the 23-year-old for "his efforts in his 11 Test appearances, as well as for the Waratahs and the Australia Sevens team at the Commonwealth Games".
Waugh said the code-hopper would be welcome to return to the 15-man game in time for the 2027 World Cup in Australia.
But one complicating factor that could potentially scupper that move is Waugh last month ruled out the prospect of RA again splashing out big money on NRL stars.
"I keep talking about being fiscally responsible because the game historically has spent more than we can afford," the chief executive said.
Nawaqanitawase's move follows months of back and forth between RA and the Roosters, who were furious when Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii was wooed to rugby union by the governing body's recently ousted chairman Hamish McLennan.
RA also tried to sign Roosters back-rower Angus Crichton but that raid broke down after the NSW State of Origin forward's camp became increasingly frustrated with the organisation's negotiating tactics.
The Roosters were also keen on talented Waratahs youngster Max Jorgensen before the teenager signed an extension with RA earlier this year.
Nawaqanitawase's code switch will at least somewhat ease a selection headache for Waratahs coach Darren Coleman.
Had the versatile outside back stayed beyond 2024, Coleman would have found it impossible to accommodate Nawaqanitawase, Suaalii, Jorgensen and others like fellow Wallabies Lalakai Foketi and Izaia Peresa and young guns Dylan Pietsch, Joey Walton and Mosese Tuipulotu all in the one backline.
With veteran Tonga and one-time Australian Test star Daniel Tupou nearing the back end of his glittering career, Nawaqanitawase's path to a starting berth at the Roosters is likely to be clearer when he and Suaalii trade places in 2025.
"We're delighted to have secured Mark's services and look forward to welcoming him to our club in 2025," Roosters recruitment boss Daniel Anderson said in a statement.
"In the meantime, we wish him all the best for a successful 2024 in rugby union."
Nawaqanitawase played the 13-man game as a child but is heading towards near uncharted territory by pitching up at the NRL glamour club.
Switches between the codes have been mostly one-way affairs to union since rugby went professional in 1995.
Ex-Wallaby Garrick Morgan was the last player to make the move to league with no prior senior experience and he featured just twice for the South Queensland Crushers in 1995.
The switch has been more common in the northern hemisphere over the last decade, but England's Luther Burrell and Wales' Andy Powell both failed to match expectations when making moves to the Super League.
Australian Associated Press