Joseph Suaalii at centre of ugly NRL furore over World Cup decision

·Sports Reporter
·4-min read
Joseph Suaalii is pictured playing for the Sydney Roosters.
Joseph Suaalii's last-minute decision to represent Samoa at the upcoming Rugby League World Cup has sparked a heated debate about eligibiliy. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Sydney Roosters young gun Joseph Suaalii has become the centre of a heated debate about the allegiances of rugby league players ahead of the World Cup, after announcing he would be playing for Samoa.

Suaaalii joined a crowing contingent of players to backflip on representing Australia for their home nations, with the likes of Samoa and Tonga expected to name rosters laden with NRL talent.

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The likes of Jarome Luai, Brian To’o, Junior Paulo and Josh Papaali’i have already committed to Samoa, while Felise Kaufusi, David Fifita, Kotoni Staggs and Daniel Tupou will likely be named for Tonga.

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga welcomed Suaalii's decision, saying he would much rather the likes of Suaalii and others who may have been 'second guessing and doubting themselves' over playing for Australia to be upfront about how they were feeling.

Despite this, Meninga called for the rules around eligibility to be further clarified in future, given the number of players who had been picked for State of Origin later opting to represent their home countries.

Suaalii, who was born in NSW to Samoan parents, contacted Meninga personally to inform him of his decision, which he labelled 'one of the most difficult decisions of my career'.

A loophole in eligibility criteria has allowed several Origin players to play both for their state and for a tier-two nation.

“I’m really comfortable in the fact that the people we pick want to be there. The people who we pick want to put the green and gold jersey on and will give a great account of themselves playing for their nation," Meninga said.

“That’s the type of person we want and that is one of the first criteria of picking a national team is that they want to be there and play for their country.

“I’m happy but it does get messy when players ring up and they have indicated they want to play for Australia and then all of a sudden at the last moment they want to play for their ancestral nation and they are not quite sure.

“I’m glad they did ring me up because they have obviously been unsure and I don’t want anyone unsure playing for Australia.”

Joseph Suaalii's Samoa decision sparks rugby league controversy

Suaalii's decision sparked a heated discussion on NRL 360, after co-host Paul Kent suggested the Kangaroos were better off recruiting 'patriots not mercenaries'.

Kent was highly critical of the Origin players who had elected to represent their home countries over Australia, suggesting they were happy to accept a payday for playing for their state, but weren't up for the same challenge for Australia.

Like Meninga, Kent also suggested the rules for eligibility needed to be looked at, saying they were drafted in a time when 'five per cent of the country was from Polynesian heritage in the Australian Rugby League.'

“The circumstances have changed. I applaud what these guys are doing playing for Samoa and Tonga, but you can’t have it both ways," he said.

“You can’t sit there and declare yourself to play for NSW and Queensland and not play for Australia.”

However a further suggestion from Kent, which he himself admitted was 'cynical', that Suaalii was choosing Samoa over Australia in order to get minutes at fullback was met with firm disagreement.

Joseph Suaalii was in the NSW State of Origin squad in 2022, but has elected to play for Samoa at the World Cup. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Joseph Suaalii was in the NSW State of Origin squad in 2022, but has elected to play for Samoa at the World Cup. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

"He gets the promise of playing fullback for Samoa at the World Cup when he would have only at best been a winger for Australia because Tedesco is the fullback.

“So he puts himself in the shopfront window and he has now begun the agitation to get himself out of the Roosters deal.

“I’m a fullback, I want to be considered as a fullback and I am going to negotiate as a fullback.”

That claim was met with incredulity by fellow panellist Brent Read, who labelled it 'ridiculous'.

“I think that is a ridiculous assertion for a 19-year-old kid to say that he has chosen Samoa over Australia because he can play fullback," he said.

“I think that is madness and I think that is a really cynical view and really unfair on Joseph.

“I have spoken to him. I didn’t ask him about if he had done it to play fullback. I asked him why he had done it and he said it was about family. It was about family and honouring his family who sacrificed so much for him over his 19 years.”

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