This article originally appeared on Stuff and is reproduced with permission
Australia’s highest-paid rugby player will risk World Cup selection to collect a $1.5 million pay cheque in Japan after his club cancelled its season in disgrace.
Rory Arnold will spend the rest of the Rugby League One season on the sidelines after the Red Dolphins were forced to withdraw from the rest of the top division competition when it emerged a group of players were involved in a wild night out in southern Japan.
The development has plunged Arnold’s World Cup involvement into doubt, leaving him with no game time to make a case for selection in Eddie Jones’ squad later in the year.
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But in a surprise twist, the 30-test forward has rejected interest from Australian Super Rugby teams and will stay in Japan, reluctant to walk away from a three-year, $4.5 million deal that catapulted Arnold to the top of the money tree in Australia and into the top 10 globally.
He will instead keep training in Tokyo and hope his value will be recognised by new Wallabies coach Jones. The news comes as Brumbies back-rower Pete Samu and Rebels second-rower Matt Philip both eye overseas offers.
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Arnold has been a highly prized tight forward since his debut under Michael Cheika in 2015, but had limited involvement with Dave Rennie’s squad due to his Japanese deal, which lured him from the Brumbies at the end of last season, making his inclusion subject to Giteau Law provisions.
He was Rennie’s preferred starter in the No.4 jersey, playing three tests against South Africa and Argentina in last year’s Rugby Championship before ruling himself out of Bledisloe Cup selection to support his wife in the birth of their first child.
In Tokyo he played only two games for his new club, but there is no doubt he would be tracked closely by Wallabies staff this year, with a view to test selection.
That is all up in the air now, after revelations a group of seven Red Dolphins players damaged a bar and groped waitresses on a boozy night out in Oita, the city that hosted the Wallabies’ 2019 World Cup quarter-final match against England, in October last year.
Arnold was part of a larger group that attended the bar but was not among the group accused of wrongdoing, sources with knowledge of the situation told The Sydney Morning Herald.
The revelations, which were reported last month by Japanese weekly magazine Bunshun, prompted the club’s owner, vehicle manufacturer Hino, to suspend activities. Late last week the company announced the team would withdraw from the League One season.
Several Super Rugby sides expressed interest in Arnold’s next move at that point, but it appears the 32-year-old will stay put for now, taking the opportunity to freshen up physically.
What effect that will have on his test hopes, remains to be seen, with continued uncertainty around Rugby Australia’s overseas selection policy.
Nick Frost, Caderyn Neville, Darcy Swain, Philip and Izack Rodda are all playing in Super Rugby, although the latter two are injured. Will Skelton is playing in France and was called up for last year’s spring tour under Rennie.
Japanese clubs take a hard line on off-field incidents. Toyota Verblitz, where Michael Hooper played, spent months in limbo after a number of players were arrested for cocaine use.
The Red Dolphins were also embroiled in a cocaine use saga three years ago, prompting the Japan Rugby Football Union to scrap three rounds of competition.
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