Wallabies, Reds to lose Australia’s ‘best centre’
Samu Kerevi is playing his farewell game at Suncorp Stadium as a Queensland Red on Friday night unless a contract miracle can shortcircuit a deal in Japan.
Losing the captain and attacking heart from the Reds is a calamity to heap further pain on their Super Rugby finals bid turning into a fizzer.
The Courier-Mail can confirm that the Reds' six-season matchwinner has been promised to the Suntory club in Japan for the Top League season from January to May.
In equal parts it is a jolt to the Wallabies and Reds because the 25-Test centre has hit the prime of his career at 25 and will be a frontline weapon at this year's World Cup.
Milestone man Scott Higginbotham has implored Australian rugby to do everything possible to keep Kerevi.
Friday night's outing at Suncorp Stadium against the Auckland-based Blues will otherwise be Kerevi's last in front of Queensland fans.
"Samu is a fantastic player, the best centre in Australian rugby at the moment and areas of his game are getting better," Higginbotham said.
"They'd surely be doing everything they can at Rugby Australia to keep him here."
Rugby Australia has not given up hope of somehow keeping Kerevi.
Wallabies winger Henry Speight told Brumbies teammates last week of his plan to switch to the Reds next season but Kerevi has made no such group proclamation.
"Obviously, there have been rumours but Samu's been keeping his head down and has focused everything on what he's been trying to achieve with the Reds," Higginbotham said.
It's believed the Kerevi deal in Japan was struck before the Super Rugby season even hotted up or his status soared.
If something is to change, it may fall on Kerevi wanting to extract himself from the Japan deal because no contract seems unbreakable these days.
He shapes as a long-term Queensland captain and is a true talisman for the younger generation around him.
Contract money has also been freed up at Rugby Australia by Israel Folau's $4 million deal being torn up and Wallaby David Pocock deciding to move to Japan post-World Cup.
It's not just a dollars thing for Kerevi because he has two younger brothers playing in Japan already.
Helpfully, the landscape in Japan has changed because the proposed 2020 "double season", which would have been a windfall for overseas players, has been shelved.
It creates a negotiation point around Kerevi playing one January-to-May season in Japan and re-signing for the Wallabies and 2021 Reds from mid-year next year.
Kerevi's footwork and a physical blast through two tacklers created the Reds' first try in their ragged 34-23 loss to the Jaguares at Suncorp Stadium last Saturday night.
Higginbotham's emotions poured out post-match with family and teammates at an onfield presentation from Reds great Mark Loane.
"It's pretty bloody special … it means everything to me," Higginbotham said.
"To be able to play for your home town and state, one cap is special so to get 100 to join a special few people is even more so.
"It was good to get involved in some of that rough and tumble stuff with a very good Jaguares side and to have an opportunity to win it."