Waratahs, Wallabies would welcome Joseph Suaalii early NRL release ahead of Olympics
The NSW Waratahs would welcome Joseph Suaalii with open arms if the hottest teenager in the NRL became available a year earlier than expected, saying it would be a “no-brainer”.
But as speculation ran riot that Sydney Roosters powerbrokers were considering releasing him a year early from his one-year extension, the Waratahs admit finding the dollars could be a hurdle.
“A hundred per cent. If he does get released early, it’s a no-brainer. He’s got to come straight across,” said Waratahs assistant coach Jason Gilmore.
“But it’s probably just the money side of it, like, who’s paying his freight?
“How does that look between the Waratahs or Rugby Australia, or is there a little bit of a payout from the Chooks that softens that blow a little bit as well?
“But the short answer is, if he came across, do we want him now? A hundred per cent we do.
“But the reality of it, with the money, I don’t know how that would work.”
Suaalii, 19, became Rugby Australia’s highest paid player when he was signed on a three-year deal worth an estimated $1.6 million per season in late March.
Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan led the pursuit to sign Suaalii, meeting with the talented teen’s player agent Isaac Moses last year in a bid to work out the teenager’s desire.
All along McLennan has insisted RA would be open to accelerating his rugby union journey if the Roosters wanted to free up some financial space and move on the Suaalii, particularly with an Olympics campaign next year in Paris.
“We’d take him straight away,” he told Nine in March. “We’ve made a good profit this year.
“We’ll make 100 million bucks out of the Lions, we’ll make another $100m out of the World Cup. Everything is heading in the right direction so we could afford to take him now and we’d be delighted to take him earlier if league didn’t want him.”
Suaalii’s place in the Roosters has been the source of much discussion all year.
While he was pressured into signing a one-year extension to keep him at Easts in 2024, the decision to sign with Rugby Australia has seen some question whether they should cut him adrift early.
Indeed, Phil Gould said the NRL should farewell him immediately.
“Every time he scores a try, anything he does in our game, people are going to refer to the fact that he’s going to rugby,” Gould said on Nine’s 100% Footy.
“Why do we need that? Go now. You made your decision. Go now. Go now. Go now. Don’t let the door hit you on the arse on the way out. See ya later. Gone. He’s made his decision.”
While experienced Roosters head coach Trent Robinson emphatically rejected Gould’s comments, Suaalii has struggled to make an impact in the centres over the past month.
After the Roosters were smashed by North Queensland in Magic Round, reports surfaced Roosters powerbrokers were talking about the worth of keeping Suaalii next year.
Roosters chairman Nick Politis denied the reports but ultimately said Robinson’s decision would carry weight.
“We have no plans to release him at this stage. The final say on recruitment is always with Robbo anyway,” Politis told NewsCorp. “You can’t blame Joseph for the way the team is performing.
“He’s working very hard with all the players to turn things around for our next game.”
McLennan, who met with Suaalii last month along with Rugby Australia board member Phil Waugh, responded by saying contracts could change quickly.
“I think there’s more to this than meets the eye,” McLennan told News Corp.
“I’m wondering if there’s a salary cap issue at the Roosters?
“Rugby Australia won’t induce Joseph to break his contract but his agent can deal with that with a good lawyer in about 30 minutes.
“Joey’s treatment is nothing short of horrible.”
Gilmore, who took the Junior Wallabies to the under-20s World Cup final in 2019 and is the current Australia A head coach, said he felt for Suaalii’s welfare after a high-octane past six weeks.
“I think people forget that while they’re professional footballers, Joey is a young man too, and as much as they say they don’t read social media or what’s going on, they’re all aware of it,” he said.
“Does he have good support? He’s the talk of the town at the moment, but he is a young man still.”
Suaalii’s arrival coincides with a Lions series in 2025 and home World Cup in 2027, the teen’s aerial ability and ability with ball-in-hand would see him rocket into the frame for John Manenti’s sevens side for next year’s Olympics.
Indeed, Australian sevens captain Nick Malouf felt the full force of Suaalii as a 15-year-old when he was invited to train with the team.
“He sat me down, won it and I got up thinking, ‘what the hell just happened there.’ He’s incredible,” Malouf told The Roar.
A gold medal would be another powerful statement for rugby union.
It would also help RA’s financials because of the government support that naturally flows from success at the Olympics.
While Gilmore said Suaalii wouldn’t be parachuted into any position over the current squad, his immense talent would see him become the biggest signature since Israel Folau sensationally joined Michael Cheika’s side in 2013. Folau scored 60 tries during his seven-year stint with the Waratahs.
“Joey aerially is outstanding, and probably playing in the centres for the Roosters at the moment he doesn’t get to display that as much as he does on the wing with those cross-field kicking options,” Gilmore said.
“You want to get his hands on the ball and you want to utilise his best assets. Whether that’s right wing or fullback, they’re obviously interchangeable these days.
“Folau did both. He played outside centre, but he bounced a lot between right wing and fullback because aerially he was so good.
“It depends on the other boys. It’s still 12 months away, so we’ve got ‘Jorgo’ (Max Jorgensen) and Dylan (Pietsch) and Mark (Nawaqanitawase) here who are great players as well, so the balance of the back three is the big thing.”
Jorgensen, who on Tuesday said his preferred position was fullback, said he would welcome Suaalii’s early arrival.
“Definitely, it’d be good for the club and rugby. Happily have him over,” Jorgensen said.
“I’m not totally sure (what it’d do for us). That’s up to the coaches on that side but love to have him here.”