Rugby Australia chair Hamish McLennan has revealed Nathan Cleary is on their NRL hit list in a major move from the rival code. Earliar in April, RA left fans of both codes in a frenzy after confirming it had signed Suaalii to a three-year contract worth around $1.6 million a year, from 2025 onwards.
The 19-year-old played schoolboy rugby, before switching codes and making his NRL debut as a 17-year-old in 2021. A freakishly talented outside back, Suaalii has been earmarked as a future great in the NRL, with news of his defection back to rugby after the 2024 season with the Roosters causing consternation across the league world.
And while it has been no secret the rival code has been targeting a number of high-profile NRL players, including Cameron Murray and Payne Haas, McLennan admitted that the biggest signing would be the code's premier halfback.
Cleary recently admitted he wouldn't rule out a future move to union. And McLennan has admitted his recent comments has ignited the spark to pursue the NRL superstar.
“Nathan Cleary wasn’t on the original list as we thought he’d be untouchable, but he said he’d be open to a switch,” McLennan told The Australian.
“I’d forgotten he’d spent time growing up in New Zealand, so he appreciates the game and gets it. Imagine him running out in front of 85,000 people wearing Wallaby gold at Stade de France. Mind-blowing.”
The other players on the list included Haas, Murray, Angus Crichton and Will Penisini. Wallabies coach Eddie Jones reportedly wants to steal Haas before the 2027 World Cup.
Cleary recently won the Rugby League World Cup as the Kangaroos' halfback and has also won back-to-back premierships with the Penrith Panthers.
Nathan Cleary doesn't rule out rugby union switch
In March, when asked on Channel 9, Cleary was complimentary of the rival code and couldn't rule out a potential switch in the future.
"I have a great admiration and respect for union players, particularly growing up in New Zealand, it's so big over there. At the moment I'm pretty happy with where I'm at. Somewhere down the track maybe (I'd consider switching). "
Australian Rugby League boss Peter V'landys took a dig at the rival code after the signing of Suaalii. "It's hard to blame Joseph for going to rugby and considering it as his future when he is going to be paid twice the money for doing half the work," he said.
"In rugby they play around 33 minutes per match, but in league the ball is in play for 57 minutes, so it would be a lot easier to earn your money. Besides, I really think that after Joseph plays rugby for a little while he will get terribly bored and return to rugby league. That's what the majority of the players who switch codes do."
Channel 9 commentator and Bulldogs football manager Gould also took aim at Suaalii in a scathing swipe. This sparked Roosters coach Trent Robinson to hit back at the commentator.
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