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After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.

Ruck'n Maul
Campaign to lure Jonny Wilkinson gathers momentum
Greg Growden
June 20, 2014
Winning ugly a handsome trait for the Wallabies

The audacious campaign to lure Jonny Wilkinson out of retirement and play in the upcoming National Rugby Championship (NRC), as reported exclusively in Ruck'n Maul two weeks ago, appears to be gathering momentum. A visit by the England World Cup-winning pivot to Sydney in a few weeks is now anticipated. Ruck'nMaul has been told those close to Wilkinson continue to talk about a "huge offer to play park rugby for a couple of months", which involves appearing for one of the New South Wales-based NRC team from late August.

Jonny Wilkinson hold the Heineken Cup aloft, Toulon v Saracens, Heineken Cup final, Millennium Stadium, May 24, 2014
Jonny Wilkinson is said to be considering a very lucrative offer to play in Australia's National Rugby Championship © Getty Images
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This NRC team has the backing of several successful businessmen, including one willing to pay an exorbitant six-figure sum to entice Wilkinson. Let's just say it would be by far the biggest per-match payment any rugby player involved in any Australian game would have ever agreed to. Test players would dream of the money on offer. Hence, according to a well-placed NRC snout, an "under-the-radar visit to Sydney where Jonny and a close colleague will stay with a mate". The "close colleague" is apparently another well-known figure from England's 2003 Rugby World Cup triumph in Australia.

Ray of light for North Harbour

There is genuine excitement - even among other NRC clubs - over the possibility of Wilkinson being the competition's first superstar marquee player. But it is not all sweetness and light at another NSW NRC franchise. The organisation is in limbo due to a businessman suddenly wanting to run the show, promising more than $100,000, but many are waiting for him to "show me the money". Time is tight. North Harbour Rays have been more proactive, announcing this week that Macquarie University will be their main partner, and that the uni's mascot, the Mac Warrior, will attend all home games. But the Rays want to entertain the kiddies even further, and they are investigating the option of having a second mascot. They are also considering conducting mascot races at home games, either involving obstacles or an out-and-out sprint. This is bound to be a NRC season highlight.

SFS to feature a quantifiable Lunatic Zone on Saturday

Some may moan that Wallabies supporters aren't passionate enough, but you won't have to worry about a certain section of crowd at the third Test in Sydney on Saturday. More than 1600 Subbies fans will be located down the Paddington end of the ground to stir everyone up, especially during the curtain-raiser between NSW and Queensland Subbies. Anyone who ventures into this area should tread very warily. You will be entering a Lunatic Zone. Let's hope the Sub District diehards are still standing by Test kick-off - especially the NSW contingent who will be cheering a team in the curtain-raiser that includes former Wales Test prop Ben Evans. Evans is now playing and coaching at Waverley.

Israel Folau still awaiting promises of contract top-ups

Best Twitter moment of the week goes to Paul Jurdeczka, just minutes after the Melbourne Test.

And the most telling quote of the week goes to Israel Folau with his summary of the Melbourne meander. "I was saying to the boys after the game I think I kicked just in that one game more times than my whole career at GWS," Folau said. Enough said. Also Folau publicly showing interest in rugby league this week caused concern in the rugby ranks. And with good reason, because we continue to hear of drama caused by promises of contract top-ups not yet being delivered to Folau.

What's your crisis got to do with us?

Calls from Australia for a "crisis summit" to discuss the game's finances have been met with a cold shoulder from New Zealand. New Zealand officials have told their Australian counterparts: "What's your crisis got to do with us?" France, Ireland and South Africa have also shown little interest in this suggested summit meeting. There's also strong word that a delicate financial report on Australian rugby is floating around, and it is not exactly rousing reading.

Rugby reporters to walk arm in ARMA

Great to see the re-formation of the Australian Rugby Media Association (ARMA). The Australian Society of Rugby Writers was organized back in the mid-1980s, and it became renowned for rollicking functions. Those with long memories can recall the time when, after a very long dinner, one of the Wallabies most famous players had to be physically restrained from jumping into Sydney Harbour because he wanted to swim home. And just days before a Sydney grand final, opposing coaches - Paul Dalton and Jeff Sayle - were sighted at a society function, arm in arm, singing songs. The society petered out about a decade ago, but several diligent media types have in recent months worked hard to revive it, with Mark Ella agreeing to be patron. Later in the season, the ARMA will announce its first winner of the Personality of the Year award. Considering some of the media ratbags who are milling around to join the association, candidates for the award - which is supposed to be a player, coach or official - could easily include some from within its own ranks.

Whispers of the Week

- Expect an announcement soon from Melbourne Rebels concerning a new private equity agreement.

- A notable NSW official is making a push for a far bigger say. This official, with strong connections all over Sydney, was letting everyone know last week at a well-known restaurant - Machiavelli - that a special target was a notable Australian rugby figure described as "the fidget midget". This will turn ugly.

- We haven't heard the last of the Michael Cheika-SANZAR judiciary brouhaha over his six-month suspended sentence for abusing a sideline cameraman in Durban. Word out of New Zealand is that civil papers are about to be, or have been, served.

- One Wallabies player appears to be far from happy about this year's dramatic team leadership changes. Caustic remarks were made after the Melbourne Test.


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Simply upload a picture of yourself to Instagram supporting the Wallabies, mention @australianrugbyunion and use #GoWallabies

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(NB: The competition is open only to residents of Australian States and Territories)

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