Izack Rodda has a message for any Australian rugby fans who still think his controversial, mid-contract departure from the Reds last year was a cash grab.
“[Coming back to Australia] obviously shows people that it was never about money. It’s all about the jersey and what it means,” Rodda told the Herald on the eve of his return to the Test arena.
“If that changes people’s minds, good. I’m happy for them. But if it doesn’t, so be it.
“I’m not here to please everybody. I’m here to do what’s best for me and what’s best for my rugby.”
Rodda, Isaac Lucas and Harry Hockings ignited great debate in May last year when the trio were stood down by the QRU for refusing to accept a COVID-enforced, industry-wide pay cut of 60 per cent.
The trio were released from their contracts five days after being stood down. Lucas and Hockings were immediately snapped up by Japanese Top League clubs and Rodda took his talents to France.
In his first interview about the tumultuous time, Rodda did not wish to clarify the exact reason for his departure.
“I don’t really want to get into it, to be honest. I’ve just parked it now. It’s been a year,” Rodda said.
But he’s comfortable with his motives.
“The people that need to know, know. I wanted to come back solely to play for my country, that’s always been my goal, ever since starting rugby. That’s what I wanted to do,” Rodda said. “That’s literally why I’m coming back.”
The first thoughts about a return to the national squad started early in his time at Lyon.
Rodda, 25, was an integral part of the 2019 World Cup squad and viewed as a potential captain of his country, such was his rapid rise to Test stardom.
The desire to add to his 25 Test caps never waned. “It was pretty early that I knew I wanted to come back. I never really wanted to leave in the first place,” he said.
“It all happened pretty quick. I reached out to Dave [Rennie], but we were in contact throughout the whole thing. He said he would love to have me back in Australia, but the ball was in my court to get that rolling.
“I made some phone calls, had a few conversations with guys and kept in touch with him throughout my time over there.”
He whittled down potential suitors to the Waratahs and Force.
Both programs have been starved of success and the former would have allowed Rodda to be closer to his family, who live in northern NSW.
But the star lock built an immediate connection with Force coach Tim Sampson.
“I went with the Force because I had a lot of conversations with Sambo and the organisation and just thought it was run very well, they’re doing all the right things and making all the right moves to become a competitive side,” he said.
“For me, going forward, I thought this club and this team was the best fit for me. I like the way they’re heading and couldn’t fault it, basically.”
The Wallabies haven’t been able to fault Rodda’s drive to improve his fitness, which wasn’t at the required level when he rejoined the squad.
On Sunday, he will resume a Wallabies career just over 12 months since many feared he had played his final game for the Wallabies.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be back. In all honesty, I didn’t think it would happen this quick,” he said.
“I was expecting to come back, quarantine, have a bit of a holiday, see family and then head over to Perth and rip in for six months leading into the season.
“I didn’t think I would be part of the group so soon. I’m grateful to be here, grateful to be part of the group, and I’ve loved every minute of it, so far.”
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