Leading NRL journalist Phil Rothfield has clashed with Aussie cricket great Michael Clarke over an on-field incident involving Joseph Suaalii and James Tedesco. The Roosters players are at the centre of an awkward situation at the Bondi club, with both set to come off contract at the end of the 2024 season.
Suaalii has made no secret of the fact he wants to play fullback, leaving the Roosters with a difficult decision to make regarding their current No.1 and captain Tedesco. At 30 years of age, Tedesco could be forced out the door so the Roosters can accommodate 19-year-old phenom Suaalii.
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The situation was thrust back into the spotlight during Saturday's game between the Roosters and Warriors when Suaalii failed to pass to Tedesco in a try-scoring situation. Suaalii made a line break in the second half but didn't pass to Tedesco on the inside, instead opting to take on the fullback by himself.
Suaalii eventually threw the ball back inside after being tackled by Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, with Sam Walker claiming the pass and scoring for the Roosters. Rothfield made mention of the moment in his Monday column for the Daily Telegraph, before discussing it on Sky Sports radio.
Rothfield said there was no suggestion Suaalii was a "selfish player”, but admitted the incident would bring the fullback battle back to forefront of people's minds. “There was a big incident in that game on Saturday, when Suaalii made the break down the left side off Luke Keary, he had Tedesco unmarked inside him and didn’t pass to him," Rothfield said on Monday morning. “That just gets tongues wagging moments like that.”
Clarke replied: “Hang on, you think Suaalii didn’t pass to Tedesco? Hang on a second, because they both want the fullback position, so they aren’t happy with each other? Please tell me what are you saying here?"
Rothfield said: “Have you read my column? Did you watch the game? You’re challenging me, so I will challenge you if you’ve actually read the column... well maybe you should because I clearly said in the column Clarkey that Joseph Suaalii is not a selfish player.
“I also said in the column, as great a player as he is, he is going to make a thousand mistakes over the next 10 years. I just said that there was a perception when this happened that it could have been regarded as selfish, and it was coincidental with the debate over the two players wanting the jersey.”
Clarke responded: “I don’t think they would do that at all, I don’t think that would ever be the case. I think you are spot on, they’d both love to play (fullback). Tedesco is No.1 for NSW and Australia and this young kid will of course want to play fullback at some stage, but I don’t think either of those players would do that on a footy field.”
Umm, this was a terrible play by Suaalii so the gap is further apart imo
— Supercoach By Adrianasaurus (@SCAdrianasaurus) March 12, 2023
Suaalii is not on Teddy's level.
That non pass pushed him back further, selfish play.
— RichitiGrub (@WSWanderingEels) March 12, 2023
Suaalii so selfish. Tedesco was in the clear
— Hayley (@Hayleyyemma) March 11, 2023
Roosters facing tricky call on Suaalii and Tedesco
Speaking last week, NRL legend Andrew Johns admitted he thinks the Roosters will eventually opt to keep Suaalii ahead of Tedesco. "I have no idea (how they'll manage it), but the top clubs make the tough decisions," Johns said on the 'Immortal Behaviour' podcast. "Me personally, I would keep Teddy on for a while, but we'll see. The really top teams manage it well and they move the player a year before their use-by date, so there's some big decisions to make on Teddy."
Leading NRL writer Andrew Webster earlier revealed that the Roosters aren't happy about being 'bullied' into extending Tedesco's contract. “James Tedesco’s management have been pushing the Roosters for the last few months to get an extra year on his contract, that hasn’t gone down particularly well with Roosters management," Webster said. "Particularly Nick Politis who doesn’t like getting bullied into triggering contracts, particularly when the player is very well paid."
When asked if he believes he can co-exist with Suaalii in the same backline long-term, Tedesco replied on Monday: "100 per cent. I don't think anyone wants to leave the club. Especially myself, I want to stay for as long as I can.
"Having guys like Suaalii and Joey Manu outside me, our spine is pretty dangerous for our team. And if we can get us all together playing for many years to come, I think it is really beneficial for the club."
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