Wallaroos duo make switch to sample New Zealand 'intensity' before World Cup

Waratahs fly-half Arabella McKenzie streaks away to score a try during the Super W match against the Brumbies, June 20, 2021 Kelly Defina/Getty Images

Rugby Australia and the Wallaroos will move to create official rules and procedures around overseas based selections, after two of Australia's best players were contracted by New Zealand's fledgling Matatū outfit.

Wallaroos fly-half Arabella McKenzie and lock Michaela Leonard have joined the Matatū -- a team representing both the Crusaders and Highlanders regions -- for New Zealand's inaugural Super Rugby Apuki season, leaving their respective Super W franchises the Waratahs and Brumbies for the opening three rounds of the season.

While RA and the Wallabies have had to deal with international clubs signing some of the nation's best male talent for years, and as such developed the Giteau Law to move with the times, the moves of McKenzie and Leonard represents new ground for the Wallaroos.

"At the moment there's no real finalized procedures," Leonard said when asked if this would impact Wallaroos selections. "They're working through the procedures at the moment as to what the rules around that will look like.

"For this year I think the circumstances were judged on an individual basis based on the factors being limited gameplay across the COVID sort of period and those benefits leading into World Cup and hopefully what we can bring back as part of that Wallaroos contingent.

"So we can't really comment on what the future will look like, but around this year, it's been really supportive to allow us to get that opportunity to play some high quality rugby leading into a big 12-month period."

Both players were head hunted through former Wallaroos assistant coach Peter Breen, and we're given the all clear by RA, as well as new Wallaroos coach Jay Tregonning, before they made the decision to take up the offers and play in the newly-formed, fully professional competition. "They [Matatū] reached out through Peter Breen, so that's kind of how I got involved with it," McKenzie said following the announcement.

"Jay [Tregonning] was super supportive. Every conversation I had with him was very positive and he was kind of pushing me to go when I was a little bit hesitant at the start with it all. He was really positive pushing me to go for it and saying I'll only get good things out of it not bad things.

"Every conversation I've had with Jay and the Wallaroos staff has been really supportive and really positive."

With RA forced to truncate the Super W season in July, turning the home-and-away tournament into a three-week championship on NSW's north coast, and no Wallaroos training camps or Test matches scheduled for some time, Australia's best players have been without game time for months and have been left scattered across the country.

McKenzie and Leonard will join the Matatu in January, both players viewing the time in New Zealand as an opportunity to learn from some of the world's best as well as develop their skills ahead of the World Cup, which will be hosted by New Zealand next year.

"It's going to be super beneficial [playing in New Zealand]," Leonard said. "We've got a big year of rugby on the cards next year, and a large portion of that will be over in New Zealand.

"I think the chance to get over there and experience the tournament, the style of play, the intensity, the quality of skill and learn from some high quality players as well, I think it's going to be super beneficial for Bella and myself to go over there and play, learn how to play in that mix, in their style of game.

"But also to challenge ourselves against some of those competitors as well, hopefully improving us as people and players when it comes down to the World Cup at the end of the end of the year."

The fully professional environment of Super Rugby Apuki was a major drawcard for both McKenzie and Leonard, and it has the potential to lure more of Australia's best talent with Super W remaining a semi-professional set up for the time being.

"Well myself personally I've for a long time wanted to be an athlete and focus on that," Leonard said.

"I'm really excited for the opportunity to challenge my skills against some really great players, get some really great coaching and advice from the support staff over at Matatu. And I think the ability to focus on rugby as my sole priority rather than sort of a seven-day work week plus studying a masters, it's just going to be incredible and I'm really excited to see what can come from it."