Cash vs. country: Is there a point when Wallabies gold loses its lustre?

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There's a scene at the end of iconic sports film, Friday Night Lights, when Odessa-Permian coach Gary Gaines, played by Billy Bob Thornton, starts changing up the names on his blackboard. It is the end of the season, after all, and Gaines is already planning for next year.

It's easy to imagine Dave Rennie doing exactly the same thing, but on an almost daily basis, such has been the player movement and ongoing reports of looming departures like that of Tom Banks, as the Wallabies coach attempts to plot not just England's downfall in July, but also an unlikely route to Rugby World Cup glory next year.

But where Gaines only had to deal with the rolling over of the school year, Rennie is juggling multiple domestic and international factors in a pandemic world when the next week, let alone month, can be more uncertain than the last.

A key question at the heart of Rennie's planning, one that is essentially beyond his control, is: What exactly is a Wallabies jersey worth?

Already this year Australian rugby has multiple players deciding that their futures lie offshore. These include the capped Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and the uncapped Angus Scott-Young and Fergus Lee-Warner, while Brumbies lock Nick Frost is reportedly exploring his exit options from a Japanese deal following his selection in last week's Wallabies training camp.

In the cases of Salakaia-Loto, Scott-Young and Lee-Warner, however, each man has made the no doubt difficult call to head offshore and increase their income now Wallabies selection appears unlikely.

Banks' situation, meanwhile, is an entirely different matter.

Before suffering an injury to his cheekbone - and somehow avoiding a suspension for a high tackle - the Brumbies fullback would have been the likely tip to face England in the 15 jersey when the series kicks off in Perth on July 2.

Kurtley Beale, Jordan Petaia, Reece Hodge and even Jock Campbell might all be in the running, but Banks' consistent performances at Super Rugby level are likely to have had him ahead of the chasing pack. Rennie, too, has stated a number of times he is "happy" with what Banks had been doing at fullback.

Now, though, as the 27-year-old weighs up a deal worth a reported $1.4 million a season, that selection picture is suddenly far less clear.

If Banks opts to sign overseas, then Rennie might see the England series as an opportunity to blood Jordan Petaia, who is improving with every game at fullback for the Reds, or to entrust the custodian role to a proven performer, and one who is guaranteed to be in Australia next year, in 95-Test veteran Beale.

And herein lies the big conundrum for Banks: Does he truly believe that he can deliver at Test level and be a permanent member of the Wallabies' 23, so much so that it is worth spurning the incredible financial riches in Japan?

That decision will have been far easier for the likes of Salakaia-Loto, Scott-Young and Lee-Warner - but one now clearly muddied for Brumbies lock Frost.

Rugby Australia [RA] has employed all manner of tactics to strike the right balance between encouraging players to remain at home in pursuit of the Wallabies jersey, and not paying exorbitant amounts of money to players it simply doesn't have in order to retain them.

From the reworking of the Giteau Law, which now is open to a far wider group of players offshore but is limited to just three places per tournament or series, to short-term sabbaticals the like of which were granted to Michael Hooper and previously David Pocock, RA can still only do so much.

And it has reportedly tried to woo Banks with a one-year sabbatical offer.

The deal RA struck with Hooper represented an entirely different scenario. As captain of the Wallabies, Hooper was Australia's top retention target. And his position in the starting side is never under question.

A sabbatical was the ideal option for Hooper, though the money Banks could leave on the table by taking up a similar contract might make that too difficult a decision to make.

"I think it's certainly something we should explore, but I'm not saying it's something that should be a given right for players because each player has a unique path and a unique development," Hooper said when he returned from his stint at Toyota Verblitz last year. "But it's certainly something we should explore.

"We forget that you can do a shoulder and be out for six months, and I've been away for five, so we're very quick to say 'oh god, we lost a guy for six months' yet we can do that with an injury so quickly. But it is a fine balance, we don't want to be losing our players, we need experienced players to funnel back information and experience to younger players.

"So getting that balance right I know is something that Dave's big on and has a really open mind to as well, and I know that the players are keen. But again it's up to the individual, some guys never want to leave; I never saw that happening for myself and then the opportunity presented itself and I now see it as being beneficial."

Banks is yet to talk publicly on the issue, while requests for interviews with Frost at the recent Wallabies camp were knocked back by team management - it is an understandably difficult decision that players face and they deserve time and space to make it.

And it is not always a simple decision of cash vs. country either, as former Wallabies fly-half Bernard Foley explained to ESPN from Japan.

"The money and that side of it is always well reported and documented, but there are so many factors to weigh up," Foley explained. "In taking that or making the move overseas, you're also giving up a lot, you're leaving a lot of what you know - your setups, your systems, your environments - to go overseas, and especially guys with family, then there's an even more factors in considering who else you're taking with you to these new places.

"But for me, financially its one part of it, but the other side of it is ambition and new challenges, a lot of guys who go overseas just thinking it's cash cow, they probably don't last long, they don't get that longevity. I came over here with a lot more ambition, I still believe and want to grow as a player and play some of my best footy. I also want to win trophies. And so if you leave not in that frame of mind, your journey or your experience can be a little bit dampened because there is so many differences and adjustments you have to make when you do leave overseas.

"But you've also got to weigh up where you are in your career, what interests you, what challenges you, the experiences that you're after, because when I made this decision I was looking for a new challenge."

It's the nature of the world we live in that discussion around decisions like the one Banks has to make will play out in the public domain, while the focus won't shift squarely from the feet of Rugby Australia and the issue it has retaining top talent.

It is certainly not a one-way street either. The governing body has already this season done well to re-sign the likes of Jordan Petaia, Izack Rodda, Andrew Kellaway, Darcy Swain and Izaia Perese through to the end of 2024, while Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami and James Slipper have all been locked in through to the end of the World Cup. The Lonergan brothers were the latest to re-sign this week.

But there is a far bigger fight coming for Taniela Tupou. With European clubs circling, RA is likely to have to come up with one helluva contract package to retain the outstanding Wallabies prop beyond 2023, when he will be in the absolute prime of his career.

Tupou is also in a position of strength given he would be a near walk-up start for one of the three spots permitted per series under the updated Overseas Player Selection Policy.

Banks, on the other hand, would be a little further down the overseas selection ladder should he decide to accept the reported Japanese deal.

Essentially, it is choice between cementing himself as the first-choice Wallabies fullback or cashing in on an offer that might never hit the same financial heights again and, as Foley says, taking up a fresh challenge.

The great worry for RA will be that while there are only two clubs attempting to woo Banks, there are plenty of others in Japan - not to mention those in Europe -- who will have their sights set on other Australian talent. The fullback's Brumbies teammate Noah Lolesio, who's contract is up at the end of the year, is the latest player to be linked with a move offshore.

The good news then? Coach Gary Gaines went onto win the Texas 5A Championship the year after he had been chronicled in the book Friday Night Lights, having waved goodbye to a swathe of top-tier talent.

If Rennie is able to wrangle the dynamic world of rugby player movement and take the Wallabies to World Cup glory in France next year then they might just make a movie about him, too.