Lote Tuqiri to join French club
SACKED Wallabies winger Lote Tuqiri has flown to France and is believed to be set to sign a lucrative contract with Top 14 club Bayonne.
Although there has been speculation Tuqiri might return to the NRL, The Australian revealed three weeks ago that he was negotiating with Bayonne and reported earlier this week that a deal was close to being finalised.
An informed source with close connections to Bayonne told The Australian yesterday Tuqiri was about to sign with the club in the southwest of France.
Tuqiri is expected to earn up to $1.3m a year at Bayonne, which is much more than he could command from an NRL club.
Given the limits of the salary cap, Tuqiri would be lucky to earn more than $250,000 a year in the NRL.
At Bayonne, Tuqiri would link with Australian-born Italy five-eighth and fellow rugby league convert Craig Gower and former Australia prop Rodney Blake.
Tuqiri, who reached an out of court settlement with the ARU over his unfair dismissal case last week, insisted he had not done a deal with Bayonne. But it is highly unusual for a player to fly half-way around the world on the off chance of gaining a contract.
There was talk of two other French clubs, Clermont and the Ewen McKenzie-coached Stade Francais also being interested in Tuqiri, but the talk in France is that he will go to Bayonne.
A source in France said Tuqiri had been talking to Bayonne since last November.
"It's a bit of a hit-and-run mission to see a club, or see a few clubs and see where they are at," Tuqiri told Channel Nine yesterday.
Tuqiri said rugby league was still an option and revealed he had a meeting with the Sydney Roosters before departing for France.
"Rugby league is still very much an option," Tuqiri said. "I'm just going to see what's out there and then we will be back to re-assess.
"They (the Roosters) have a good board and a good chairman (Nick Politis), who is quite passionate about where they are going and where they want to be."
But Politis, who spoke to Tuqiri on Thursday, left their meeting with the impression the dual international was close to finalising his future.
"I think he's going to France," Politis said.
"I think he knows what he's doing."
However, Politis said the Roosters would re-consider their stance on Tuqiri if he returned from France and decided he wanted to play rugby league.
The club has little room to move under the salary cap given it has signed former Canberra half Todd Carney for next season.
Fullback Anthony Minichiello is expected to confirm today he will stay for another year. To sign Tuqiri, they would more than likely be forced to move players. Utility Setimata Sa has been linked with rival clubs.
"A lot of clubs are interested in him - three or four clubs," Politis said.
"If and when he comes back, and if he decides he wants to play league, I have to talk to the new coach (Brian Smith) about him."
NRL chief executive David Gallop, mindful of the battering the NRL's image has taken this year, has stated that Tuqiri would have to reveal why the ARU tore up his $2m contract before re-admitting him to rugby league.
Tuqiri said he would tell the NRL why he was sacked if it was a condition of playing rugby league again.
Asked whether he was prepared to meet with Gallop, Tuqiri said: "Yeah, if I have to."http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25990739-5015651,00.html