Japanese rugby
League stars bluffing about Japan offers
ESPN Staff
April 17, 2013
Click above to view the full interview with former NRL star Craig Wing on ESPN's Pardon the Interuption program
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Tournaments/Tours: Super Rugby
Teams: Australia | Japan

Former National Rugby League (NRL) star Craig Wing has cast doubts over Australian rugby league players coming off contract who boast about offers they have to play rugby union in Japan.

Speaking exclusively on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption program, Wing gave an intriguing account of his past three years playing rugby union in Japan, and said he gets a "bit of a chuckle" when he reads about Australian rugby league players claiming to have offers in Japan.

"There is no rugby league in Japan and most [rugby union] players have not even heard of it," Wing said. "That's why I get a bit of a chuckle when I read the Australian media and Aussie [rugby league] players coming off contract say there is a big deal in Japan."

Wing explained how the Japanese club system only allows two foreign players on the field at any one time, and most of the big money foreign contracts are reserved for former international rugby players or Super Rugby stars looking for a change of pace in the twilight of their careers.

"There is really not that many spots over there and the Japanese clubs follow all the Super Rugby and they want the Super Rugby guys, especially the international players," Wing said.

When asked why he thought it was mostly untrue that off-contract rugby league players were spruiking rugby offers from Japan, Wing gave his reasons around Japan's foreign player rule and too much talent on offer across New Zealand, Australian and South African rugby.

"You are only allowed two foreign players on the field at the same time [in Japanese club rugby]," Wing said. "The other problem is all the Kiwis and the Springboks and the Wallabies all want to get over there, and they want to fill those spots."

"The Japan club teams want the big rugby names and want to pay the big dollars for them, and that really leaves no space for rugby league guys who they have never really heard anything about," Wing added.

With his mother from the Philippines, Wing gained his start in Japanese rugby via the Asian player rule that exists alongside the foreign player rule.

"The lucky thing for me was that I have an Asian passport, and part of the rule is a team is allowed two foreign players plus one (non-Japanese) Asian player," Wing said. "Because my mum's Filipino, I have a Filipino passport, and I was able to go in as the Asian player."

With his ageless good looks and boyish charm, Wing was an NRL pin-up player for over a decade - playing 256 games for South Sydney and Sydney Roosters from 1998 to 2009, while also representing New South Wales in 10 State of Origin matches and 16 Tests for Australia.

The 33-year-old admitted to missing rugby league when he comes home to Australia, but he says he has thoroughly enjoyed his past three years in Japan and the different experiences and relative anonymity that comes with it.

"It's great … it's totally different to Australia, which is the experience I was looking for," Wing said. "All the cities in Japan are just so big and they make Sydney look like a country town. You can get lost among the masses over there."

The main money in Japanese rugby comes from major corporate companies, who all privately own the clubs and put the same policies in place for their contracted rugby players as they do for their general workforce.

"I'm a company worker in the human resources department at Kobe Steel," Wing said of the Kobelco Steelers club he now plays for in Japan's Top League.

The first team Wing played for when he arrived in Japan from Australia was NTT Shining Arcs (owned by NTT Communications), and he shared a humorous restriction he had to deal with while not being able to drive his car to training or matches.

"The company policy was that you weren't allowed to drive to anything to do with the company," Wing said. "I would have to ride my bike to the train station, catch the train two stops to the training ground and then walk."

"On game day I would have to put my suit on, and walk to the bus stop before catching a bus to the train station, then sometimes catch three trains to the station near the field, play the game and then do the reverse. That was a really big shock to the system."

Wing has recently earned selection in Japan's national team coached by former Wallabies mentor Eddie Jones, and he has not ruled out appearing for the Cherry Blossoms at Rugby World Cup 2015 in England.

© ESPN Australia / New Zealand

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