Joseph Suaalii has shown why rugby union value his talent at $1.6 million after shining when moving to fullback during the Roosters' 28-20 win over the Eels on Thursday night. The Roosters proved too strong for the Eels who played 20 minutes of the game with 12 men after two sin-bins in the first-half.
One of those incidents saw Bailey Simonsson jump out of the line and flatten James Tedesco with a high shot that knocked the fullback out. Tedesco was hit late in his face with Simonsson's shoulder, which resulted in the Eels player spending 10 minutes on the sideline.
Many in the NRL world believed Simonsson should have received his marching orders and been sent off. Regardless, Tedesco was not able to continue having been left dazed after the sickening late hit.
This prompted coach Trent Robinson to move Suaalii to fullback. Suaalii has been under pressure all week having signed for rugby union on a monster $1.6 million deal from 2025 onwards.
The 19-year-old has long been linked to fullback and played for Samoa in the World Cup in the No.1 jersey. And the prodigious talent got a chance to showcase what he can do in the NRL on Thursday night.
He stepped past Mitch Moses to put the Roosters on the attack for one try, set up another with a flick pass and then helped make the most of an overlap to lay on a third. The flick pass after he got on the outside of his defender with a burst of acceleration showed what is to come for the young star.
Five-eighth Luke Keary was full of compliments for the youngster as he stepped in to fill the boots of the game's premier fullback. "In that semi-final last year when Ted left, he came in and we were a little all over the shop," Keary said after the match.
"We couldn't get him in. Tonight we had one or two sets where it was, what's going on. And then we had a stoppage and he was terrific after that.
"He was moving, connected. He was moving the line in defence. He popped up all over the field." And fans agreed with Keary and were quick to praise Suaalii's performance in light of all the attention this week.
Suaalii’ replied to critics the best way he knew how ❤️ our star kid truly 🇼🇸 https://t.co/mxaIQgyNWb
— pretty leo baby (@TanjiHeaux) March 30, 2023
Suaalii’s left foot step is insane I might have to become a rugby union fan 😅
— Sir $amuelSOSA (@whitebeltmafia) March 30, 2023
Sua’ali’i at fullback 😍
— The Cast Patrol (@thecastpatrol) March 30, 2023
The back of the hand assist from Suaalii...Simply sensational..What a talent footy is loosing............... https://t.co/H9Ejlooat7
— Lütfi Ibragimowiç Berdiwadabekow (@LotfiWada) March 30, 2023
After the match, coach Robinson said the team was rallying around the teenager after the attention turned on the Roosters star following his move. "We felt like we supported him well this week, but you can burn a lot of energy thinking about a lot of stuff in a week like that," Robinson said.
"And he had a lot of energy tonight. So he didn't burn all of it thinking about external stuff. He was able to handle that. To go from centre to fullback, know the role of that position and continue right through to the end, it was a credit to him."
Phil Gould calls for Joseph Suaalii exit from NRL
Plenty of the attention this week has seen NRL guru Phil Gould enter into a running war-of-words with Robinson over the Suaalii situation. Gould called for Suaalii to exit the NRL early, rather than fulfil his contract.
"Every time he scores a try. Every time he does something 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. Don’t let the door hit you on the arse on the way out. Go. Go now. Gone. He’s made his decision. You sign a contract for rugby 18 months before his league contract ends.
“You can’t sign with any other rugby league club in that time. He can only sign somewhere else. He’s made his decision. I have nothing against the kid. I’ve loved having him in the NRL. He’s a tremendous athlete and is great for the game. But he’s decided to be a rugby player. Bye bye. Off you go.”
This didn't sit well with the Roosters coach who blasted Gould for showing 'fear' over another code's ambition. Robinson also called out Gould for having a go at the 19-year-old in the highly-scrutinised situation. Gould then hit back on Wednesday and doubled down on his comments on Suaalii.
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