Hooker Brandon Smith has questioned whether Rugby Australia's decision to sign his Sydney Roosters teammate Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii on a big-money contract will move the Wallabies any closer to their former glory.
Speculation Suaalii could hop codes has followed the former schoolboy rugby star since before he made his NRL debut as a 17-year-old in 2021.
On Saturday, Rugby Australia confirmed it had signed Suaalii to a three-year contract worth around $1.6 million a year that will have him available for the Waratahs at Super Rugby level, as well as the Wallabies in next year's British & Irish Lions series and at the 2027 World Cup.
The outside back is one of the most popular young players in rugby league and is poised to become the new face of a sport battling to attract similar ratings and domestic crowds as its rival football codes.
But New Zealand-born Smith doubted whether Suaalii's inclusion would improve the Wallabies' on-field performance enough to compete with the powerhouses of world rugby.
Australia won only five of 14 Tests in 2022 and now sit seventh on the World Rugby rankings.
"Super stoked for him, he's an amazing talent and rugby really got a gem there," Smith said.
"(But) a $1.6 million winger from the Roosters isn't going to help you beat the All Blacks.
"Like (ARLC chair) Peter V'landys said, go over, get that easy money and then come back to the real sport.
"That $1.6 million could've been spent better on the grassroots of rugby."
Newly-minted Wallabies coach Eddie Jones has made no secret of wanting to entice ex-schoolboy players back to rugby since replacing Dave Rennie in January.
South Sydney skipper Cameron Murray sits atop his wishlist, while other ex-schoolboy rugby stars in the NRL include Angus Crichton, Taane Milne and Will Penisini.
Rugby Australia doesn't have the financial wherewithal to hand out $1.6 million contracts willy-nilly but the Roosters are resigned to Jones spruiking union to other NRL players.
"Any code would be silly not to target the best players," utility Drew Hutchison said.
"I don't know if I see it as a threat as such, I more just see it as normal competition.
"You'll probably see a bit more of it."
Smith believes his former Melbourne teammate Nelson Asofa-Solomona would be the perfect candidate for an All-Blacks raid; the towering Kiwi has previously expressed interest in returning to the game of his childhood and comes off contract at the end of this season.
"He's definitely thought about it, whether he does it or not I don't know, it'd be hard to leave the Storm for him," Smith said.
"He's been there since day dot but (union) suits his lifestyle as well. He loves to travel.
"I think (Suaalii) is probably the first they've got that's a young, rising talent. So hopefully they don't take too many of those.
"(But) there's always the next kid coming up through the ranks."
Suaalii has already been likened to legendary code-hoppers Israel Folau and Sonny Bill Williams and just like Williams before him, the Roosters are tipping Suaalii to circle back to the NRL after a spell in union.
"Once he's built $3 million worth of houses, he'll come back and hopefully he'll come back to the Roosters," Smith said.
Roosters halfback Sam Walker, who himself played rugby union for GPS school Ipswich Grammar, said Suaalii's skillset would make it easy to transition back and forth.
"He's an unbelievable athlete, he could do whatever he wanted to do," he said.