Joseph Suaalii cops cheeky sledge from teammate in stark Wallabies reality

Brandon Smith couldn't help take a cheeky dig at the teenager after his code switch.

Joseph Suaalii during a game and Eddie Jones during a press conference.
Roosters teammate Brandon Smith has taken aim at Rugby Union Australia and the money spent bringing Joseph Suaalii over to the game. (Getty Images)

You can't win with some rugby people – even when their sport wins. The reaction to this week's news Roosters superstar Joseph Suaalii was joining the 15-man game from 2025 said a lot about where rugby sits in relation to its despised "rival", rugby league.

We say "rival" in inverted commas because league types don’t see rugby as a threat – at all. Suaalii's defection was big news, no doubt about it, but there was an air of 'who cares, he'll be back once he's made his money' within NRL circles.

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It would have been a lot more damaging if Rugby Australia had poached a Cameron Munster, a Tom Trbojevic or a Nathan Cleary. Suaalii has done reasonably well in his short time in the NRL and will continue to make strides over the next couple of years before jumping into Eddie Jones' embrace and RA's pit of money.

But in rugby league, when one star leaves, another quickly arrives to take his place. Just this weekend we've seen rookies Kotoni Staggs and Lachlan Ilias ice games for their teams.

And Cleary and Mitchell Moses again reminded us what special talents they are in an epic western Sydney showdown. Rugby league is always in the spotlight, even when rugby has something to poke its chest out about.

This week there was the touching John Sattler tributes, continuing speculation over the futures of Luke Brooks, Anthony Griffin and Craig Bellamy, Wayne Bennett labelling Sydney clubs "selfish" over expansion plans and even a yarn on Anthony Seibold falling asleep at a Maccas.

The NRL is a seven-day-a-week soap opera with storylines and sub-plots at every turn. Can anyone tell us what happened in Super Rugby – or if it happened at all?

Brandon Smith takes dig at Australian rugby union

Rugby is fighting in the same space as league and Jones does his best to steal coverage for rugby whenever he can. Suaalii's switch should prove good PR value for a game desperately in need of it.

Jones gets it, even if many in his flock don't. Reaction to Suaalii's "homecoming" wasn't exactly what you'd call overwhelmingly positive.

Joseph Suaalii passes the ball.
Joseph Suaalii (pictured) is set to join rugby union after his contract ends at the Sydney Roosters. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Typical of many was this post on Rugby Australia's Facebook page: "Why would my children stick with Rugby if RA do not reward loyalty. You are a joke Rugby Australia, fix the grass roots with decent funding, buying code hoppers won’t save Australian Rugby."

It seems even those in rugby league agree, albeit with a wink. A very tongue-in-cheek Brandon Smith joked: "That $1.6 million could have been spent better on the grassroots of rugby than grabbing our beautiful young Suaalii.

"A $1.6 million winger from the Roosters isn't going to help you beat the All Blacks. I guess it's an opportunity for him to be able to look after his loved ones and his family.

"He's extremely professional, extremely humble. I just hope I get a few feeds out of it." Ouch.

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