Roosters coach Trent Robinson has taken a subtle swipe at Hamish McLennan after suggesting the Rugby Australia chairman's comments around Joseph Suaalii lacked class. The rugby-bound NRL star's name has been thrust back into the spotlight this week amid reports the Roosters were considering letting Suaalii leave one year early for the rival code.
Roosters supremo Nick Politis came out to refute those reports and said the club had no plans to release Suaalii before his current deal expires in 2024. The 19-year-old's $1.6 million a year deal with Rugby Australia begins from 2025, but if the Roosters let him leave after this season, they would free up around $700,000 from their salary cap, in money that could be used to retain the likes of veteran prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
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McLennan said RA would love to take Suaalii right away and claimed the young star had been poorly treated from within the NRL community. “Rugby Australia won’t induce Joseph to break his contract but his agent can deal with that with a good lawyer in about 30 minutes," McLennan told News Corp in response to this week's reports. “Joey’s treatment is nothing short of horrible.”
Discussing the situation on Thursday, the Roosters coach echoed the views of club chairman Politis by insisting the latest Suaalii speculation was wide of the mark. “Those reports haven’t come from inside this club," Robinson said. "That’s been speculation (from) outside. It’s not even been a discussion inside this club."
The RA boss also insinuated there was "more than meets the eye" with regard to the Suaalii contract situation at the Roosters, and said rugby had the money to take the 19-year-old star immediately, if he became available. McLennan's comments, and particularly his Roosters salary cap dig, did not go down well with Robinson.
“He’s doing that for certain reasons,” the Roosters coach said about the RA chairman. “I can imagine rugby people aren’t excited about the way that’s been handled either. There’s usually a bit more class in the discussions and all of that.”
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Concerns around Suaalii's form come after a lacklustre start to the season that's seen him score just one try for the eighth-placed Roosters across their first nine games. The 19-year-old has been touted as one of the future superstars of the sport and while Robinson says he understands the scrutiny around his player, the pressure on Suaalii has not been coming from within the club.
“We play a game that is televised and we get to do what we do because people have opinions on it," Robinson added. "That scrutiny and that interest is on him, and he has to perform and we have to perform.
“As far as putting pressure on whether he’ll be here or not, I feel like that’s unfair because that hasn’t come from inside these walls. It applies that little bit of a blowtorch to say I need to coach him better and he needs to play a bit better.”
The Roosters currently sit eighth on the ladder after an inconsistent 5-4 start to the season and take on th two-time defending premiers Penrith on Friday night. Aside from the Suaalii saga, the Roosters' preparation for the game has also been overshadowed by talk about the future of assistant coach Jason Ryles, who has emerged as the favourite to replace Dragons coach, Anthony Griffin.
“We’ve chatted about his future, but it’s not something that’s for me to go into,” Robinson said. “In a way it’s got something to do with us, but it’s got nothing to do with us in another way.
"I’ve chatted with him privately, but the rest I don’t have any information on. I never have (stood in the way of an assistant coach wanting to leave) so that’s not going to happen now as long as there’s clarity there and we’re doing the best thing for the Roosters.”
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