Joseph Suaalii is reportedly committed to his switch to rugby union amid fears Eddie Jones' departure as Wallabies coach could force the cross-code phenom to backflip. Suaalii will move from the Sydney Roosters to the NSW Waratahs at the end of the 2024 NRL season on a three-year $5 million deal.
But the Wallabies' embarrassing group-stage exit from the Rugby World Cup, coupled with Jones' bombshell resignation this week, have sparked fears that Suaalii will renege on his deal and opt to stay in the NRL. Roosters teammate Angus Crichton has already withdrawn his interest in a switch to the 15-man game, but the Daily Telegraph is reporting that Suaalii remains committed.
According to the report, it was Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan who was responsible for signing Suaalii - not Jones. Whether McLennan remains in the role long-term remains to be seen, but the chairman declared on Monday that he won't be resigning.
"I want to stay to deliver the 2027 World Cup in Australia," he told the Sydney Morning Herald. "That has always been the big prize for Australian rugby. More destabilisation will just make matters worse just when we're about to break through. Life is not a continuous line of perfect calls and success. I came to rugby to find a way to fix it when it all fell over and despite the sad Eddie situation, this is another hurdle we'll overcome."
Rugby Australia confirmed Jones' departure on Tuesday less than 12 months into what was meant to be a five-year deal. Under Jones watch, the Wallabies failed to make the quarter-finals for the first time in World Cup history.
Could Joseph Suaalii backflip and stay in the NRL?
Leading NRL journalist Phil Rothfield reported last month that there were "doubts" about whether Suaalii would honour his rugby deal. “I’ve reach out to Isaac Moses who manages Joseph Suaalii, he’s not taking calls or text messages,” Rothfield said on the Big Sports Breakfast.
“But I’m hearing that you know, Suaalii, will his deal be in doubt now? Does he really want to leave a powerhouse club like the Roosters? A future in the NRL or go over and get belted? I know the British and Irish Lions are coming over here in a few years and the home World Cup.
“But I would not at all be surprised if they start investigating how to get out of that contract. This is a massive, massive story.”
Concerns have been expressed in rugby union circles about the amount of money McLennan forked out to get Suaalii to defect. Reports emerged earlier this year that former Rugby Australia CEO Andy Maronis wasn't happy about the amount of money the 15-man code gave Suaalii, as well as RA's pursuit of rugby league players in general.
The SMH reported that "Marinos did not agree with RA's aggressive pursuit of Suaalii, led by McLennan, and the massive amount of money that was ultimately outlaid to get the youngster's signature." Marinos reportedly "did not share McLennan's enthusiasm for chasing league players and argued the record Suaalii salary would inflate the market and subsequently force Rugby Australia to pay more to its other top-tier players."
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