Rugby Australia set to nab teenage whiz in big coup
NEWS: Rugby Australia is poised to pull off a mighty coup and win the million-dollar tug-of-war for the services of teenage whiz Joseph Suaalii.
RA on Tuesday coyly claimed the deal was “not done yet” after reports surfaced that 16-year-old Suaalii was set to turn his back on a $1.7 million offer to remain with NRL club South Sydney for three more years.
Like super-coach Wayne Bennett, Suaalii is contracted to Souths until the end of next season.
But the Rabbitohs had hoped to lock down the prodigious talent long term until new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie apparently swooped having hotly pursued Suaalii since first trying to sign him in February.
With Souths unable to register the contract with the NRL until Suaalii turned 17 on August 1, Rennie and RA time have seemingly talked the teenager into a late change of heart.
“I met him [Suaalii] when I was here in January. Impressive athlete and a very mature kid for 16,” Rennie told reporters last month.
“As you get with guys like Joseph, they command a lot of attention and clearly Souths are very interested in him and have thrown some serious money in front him.
“So he’s just an example of the type of kids that we want to keep in our game, but it’s a competitive market and it’s not easy.
“We’re going to miss out on some of these kids coming out of school but I think it’s important that we keep in contact with them and keep that relationship going, so that when they’re making the next decision around a contract our game is still an option for them.”
But cash-strapped RA, crippled financially by the coronavirus, has denied promising Suaalii $1 million a year.
A gifted all-round sportsman who has also excelled at AFL and basketball, Suaalii stands a towering 196cm and weighs 96kg and spent the off-season training with the Rabbitohs NRL squad.
Souths great turned assistant coach Sam Burgess last month hailed the hulk “incredible”.
“Look, I hate rapping young kids,” Burgess told Fox Sports.
“I’ve seen him first-hand, training with the first team and forget his athletic ability, what I saw inside Joseph Suaalii that day, I saw [how] we took him to the edge of the cliff and he hung on for dear life and he had the courage of a 25 to 28-year-old man.”
The Rabbitohs offered AAP a “no comment” when contacted on Tuesday.