Wellington Franchise to Target Tana

The audacious promoters of a National Rugby League (NRL) franchise in Wellington have All Blacks captaincy candidate Tana Umaga at the top of their shopping list.

Umaga is contracted to the New Zealand Rugby Union until the end of next season but the Wellington-based consortium backing the Southern Orcas bid to join the NRL in 2006 are prepared to play a waiting game.

"He would be our key player," Orcas acting bid chief Andrew Chalmers said to League Correspondent.

Chalmers, a New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) director said he had no doubt the 31-year-old Wellingtonian would be more than capable of making the code switch considering his background as a former Junior Kiwi and one-time triallist at Newcastle.

"Tana grew up in a true league heartland and with that background he'd brain them," Chalmers said.

Umaga, a veteran of 53 All Blacks tests since his debut in 1997, could not be reached for comment.

The Orcas' desire for the All Blacks centre and vice-captain follows revelations that the Gold Coast ? one of Wellington's rivals for a spot should the league be expanded ? were seeking Wallabies wing Lote Tuqiri.

The former Kangaroos and Brisbane Broncos star is yet to decide on his playing future with Australia and the Waratahs and may return to rugby league.

Chalmers' dream team also includes All Blacks enforcer Jerry Collins and Umaga's midfield partner at the Hurricanes and Wellington, Ma'a Nonu.

"Just imagine a backline boasting Umaga and Nonu, we'd be almost unstoppable," he said.

The Orcas are pushing on with their bid to become the 16th NRL franchise despite the strong cases put by the the Gold Coast and a Central NSW coast initiative based in Gosford, north of Sydney.

The NRL has considered each proposed venture but may eventually decide against expansion.