Rugby Australia has hit back at reports it has splashed out $3 million to nab teenage whiz Joseph Suaalii from under the noses of the NRL.
RA on Tuesday night coyly claimed a deal was “not done yet” after seemingly convincing the 16-year-old sporting sensation to turn his back on a $1.7 million offer to remain with South Sydney for three more years.
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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 so-called next Greg Inglis long term before new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie swooped, having hotly pursued Suaalii since first trying to sign the prodigy in February.
With Souths not allowed to register the contract with the NRL until Suaalii turned 17 on August 1, Rennie and RA made their move and are now poised to win the tug-of-war for his services.
The Sydney teenager and 2019 Australian under-18s representative has starred for The King's School's First XV for the past two years.
But, crippled financially by the coronavirus and having laid off 40 per cent of its staff, RA says promising Suaalii $1 million a year is crazy.
“Financial offers being speculated in the media presently are totally fanciful and are being propagated by the usual suspects whose sole interest it is to inflate and misrepresent contract values,” said RA interim CEO Rob Clarke.
“At this stage, there has been no agreement between Joseph, his family or his representation.
“Joseph Suaalii is an upstanding young man and a talented rugby player. We have made it no secret that we would like to keep Joseph within the rugby pathway.”
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The Rabbitohs offered AAP a “no comment” when contacted on Tuesday night.
Veteran rugby league reporter Paul Crawley said the seven-figure offer was “madness”.
“It’s just madness; it’s madness from a game that’s broke,” Crawley said on NRL 360.
“Everyone that has seen this kid play in the GPS rugby competition says he is just a freak; he’s outstanding. He’s something seriously special.
“We’ve all been around long enough to see this sort of talent come along every so often, and that talent doesn’t always equate to a tremendous professional rugby league player.
“Kurtley Beale was a great example … everyone was chasing him. Did Kurtley Beale turn out to be that player?
“It’s a desperate attempt to try and save yourself.”
How silly is the ARU.— RichitiGrub (@WSWanderingEels) July 21, 2020
3 million for a kid in there current financial situation.https://t.co/ltsTitP0xx
A gifted all-round sportsman who has also excelled at AFL and basketball, Suaalii stands a towering 196cm, 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.”