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Who is ‘Marky Mark’? The story behind the NRL’s newest star recruit

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mark Nawaqanitawase, nrl, roosters

It’s almost as if the NRL and Rugby Australia have done a straight swap of up and coming young stars, after Waratahs and Wallabies winger Mark Nawaqanitawase signed a shock two-year deal with the Sydney Roosters.

The 23-year-old nicknamed ‘Marky Mark’ has become the league’s newest star signing, set to throw on the tri-colours at the start of the 2025 season… just in time for the Roosters’ current winger Joseph Sua’ali’i to make the opposite transition to Union.

Following a tumultuous 2023 for Rugby Australia, losing one of their most promising representative players is the last thing they needed, and probably the last thing they expected, considering the British & Irish Lions tour and Rugby World Cup happening in Australia in the coming years.

However, Nawaqanitawase has decided to leave those alluring events behind for a new challenge, an opportunity he says he couldn’t resist.

The code hop has again ignited the growing rivalry between rugby union and rugby league in Australia. But Nawaqanitawase hasn’t always just played the sport we’ve seen him thrive in on the professional stage; having a background in league growing up in Sydney.

So with the 6-foot-4 Union international deflecting to the NRL in 2025, let’s make sure you’re up to speed on everything Mark Nawaqanitawase, before he pulls on the tri-colours of the Sydney Roosters.

Mark Nawaqanitawase, nrl, roosters

How has Mark Nawaqanitawase gone in professional rugby union?

Having only made his debut in the Super Rugby in 2020, you can say Nawaqanitawase’s career has rocketed to where it is today; an Australian representative and now a marquee signing for the NRL.

As of the start of 2024, he has played 47 games for the Waratahs — 22 tries, including a double in his first appearance in sky blue against the Crusaders.

After a couple of seasons playing with the Tahs, Nawaqanitawase showed plenty of potential; so much so he was not only brought into the Wallabies squad for the Spring Tour in 2022, but also featured for Australia in Rugby Sevens at the Commonwealth Games.

The powerful winger, who utilises his elite pace and athleticism to dominate on the rugby field, was listed in our mix of Wallabies players to have a breakout 2023 campaign.

He has now played 11 games for the green and gold, after a disappointing team performance at the World Cup. And for Nawaqanitawase, now is the time for him to move on to his next challenge.

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Has Nawaqanitawase ever played rugby league before?

The Roosters haven’t just signed a star player who has only played union, Nawaqanitawase has a background in rugby league from a young age.

Having grown up in Sydney’s inner-west, the superstar with mixed Fijian and Italian heritage played league up until he started high school, representing the Concord-Burwood Wolves and Leichhardt Wanderers in juniors.

But having attended a private school where union thrives in Sydney, he deflected to the 15-a-side sport, playing for St Pat’s college (high school) and Eastwood in seniors.

What position will Nawaqanitawase play for the Roosters?

Wing?

There’s obviously plenty that has to play out before we can give a definitive answer on the exact position Mark Nawaqanitawase will play in the NRL. But going off his position in union, it’s fair to assume he will be playing on the wing.

Currently, the future of the outside backs at the Roosters is a little murky, with some players nearing retirement, Sua’ali’i going back the other way to rugby, and the others desperate for a change.

The Roosters’ wingers for 2024 are experienced veteran Daniel Tupou and new recruit Dom Young. But with Tupou not contracted through to 2025, wing is clearly the most obvious place for Nawaqanitawase to slot into.

Centre?

Young star outside back Joseph Sua’ali’i is on the move in 2025, just as Nawaqanitawase joins the Chooks. So it certainly remains possible that Tupou extends and coach Trent Robinson explores trying Nawaqanitawase at centre.

His naturally bigger build that is required for rugby union would make him the perfect centre in league, due to his power running game and evident upper body strength.

The only obstacle here is that the Roosters have a couple of great centre options; Billy Smith and Joey Manu, who have more experience playing in that position at NRL level.

Fullback?

The final option – and quite possibly the most interesting – is having Nawaqanitawase replace current captain James Tedesco at fullback.

This is highly unlikely, especially for the 2025 season, as Tedesco still plays fullback at a reasonably high level (club, State of Origin and international). It is, however, the final year on his existing contract, meaning Nawaqanitawase could be trialled there when Tedesco is absent, as the club looks for a long-term replacement. Teddy’s not getting any younger.

Mark Nawaqanitawase, Wallabies

Although, current centre Joey Manu has shown how damaging he can be when down back, winning the Golden Boot Award (best international player) in 2022 at fullback for New Zealand.

As of mid-December 2023, Manu is yet to sign a contract for 2025, leaving his options open for a potential move to a club that will let him play fullback sooner than at the Roosters.

Whether it’s fullback, wing or centre, Mark Nawaqanitawase will for sure be as damaging a rugby league player as we’ve seen from him in union. Make no mistake, the Roosters have landed yet another big fish.

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