“Yeah, it was a tough one,” he said. “I was pretty close [to re-signing] with the Brumbies. There is some exciting young talent coming through at the Brumbies as well, and I didn’t really want to hinder their opportunities, and wanted the next generation to have their time in Brumbies colours.“
That’s a typically generous Leali’ifano statement, but it also hints at the complexities of the older player/younger player dynamic.
Older players don’t lose their competitive streak once they get beyond 30 years old. In fact, if players are still operating at close to their peak in their 30s, it shows they are intensely competitive animals by nature. Had Leali’ifano rejoined the Brumbies, he would have set his sights on the No.10 jersey – and he hasn’t given up on playing for the Wallabies again.
“I guess I look at someone like Roger Federer and Tom Brady and those kinds of guys, who are still at the peak of the game, and they are nudging their 40s,” Leali’ifano said. “We sort of look at guys in their 30s as too old to be running around playing footy, but as long as the body’s capable of keeping up with the young guys you never know. I’d like to think I’ve got a few good quality years left before I wind down.“
In this case, Moana Pasifika’s gain is also Lolesio’s gain. For whatever reason, the 21-year’s game fell away when Quade Cooper joined the Wallabies squad, and he would have suffered a bad case of déjà vu if Leali’ifano was back in Canberra.
Competition is a good thing, but Lolesio has been excellent for the Brumbies during the past two years – playing above his age, really – and he has earned the right to make the football team his own team in the coming years.
The route back to the Wallabies is not necessarily as clear for Wilson and McReight. The enlarged squads used this year will (hopefully) not be needed next year, and there is a logjam developing in the back row.
Rob Valetini is too good to ignore, Dave Rennie has a soft spot for Lachlan Swinton, Rob Leota is a project, Pete Samu is becoming a bench specialist, Michael Hooper is almost unbreakable, and Sean McMahon appears to have been welcomed back into the fold.
There is little room there for the Reds pair at present, as unpalatable as that might be for Reds supporters.
The omission of all three for the Spring Tour is a red flag for their Rugby World Cup hopes, but at least Lolesio doesn’t have Leali’ifano to worry about.