Phil Gould insists Joseph Suaalii should walk away from the NRL now after launching a scathing attack on the Roosters young gun, following news of his big-money defection to rugby. It was confirmed over the weekend that Suaalii has agreed a three-year deal with Rugby Australia (RA) from 2025 onwards, that is worth a staggering $1.6 million a year.
News of the Suaalii deal left fans of both codes in a frenzy and has sparked a war of words between the rival codes. ARLC boss Peter V'landys and Roosters teammate Brandon Smith claimed Suaalii would inevitably get bored playing rugby and return to the NRL. RA chair Hamish McLennan fired back, describing critics in league circles as "cry babies" and touting his own code's worldwide appeal.
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Suaalii - touted as a potential future great in the NRL - still has the rest of this season as well as the whole of next season before he makes the switch back to rugby. However, Gould says now that he's decided to turn his back on rugby league, he wants the 19-year-old to leave now, for the good of the game.
“Every time he scores a try. Every time he does something in our game people are going to refer to the fact that he’s going to rugby,” Gould said on Nine’s 100% Footy. “Why do we need that? Go now. Don’t let the door hit you on the arse on the way out. Go. Go now. Gone. He’s made his decision. You sign a contract for rugby 18 months before his league contract ends.
“You can’t sign with any other rugby league club in that time. He can only sign somewhere else. He’s made his decision. I have nothing against the kid. I’ve loved having him in the NRL. He’s a tremendous athlete and is great for the game. But he’s decided to be a rugby player. Bye bye. Off you go.”
Suaalii played schoolboy rugby, before switching codes and making his NRL debut as a 17-year-old in 2021. A freakishly talented outside back, the 19-year-old's deal puts him in line for a historic British and Irish Lions tour of Australia in 2025, as well as a home Rugby World Cup for the Wallabies in 2027.
Roosters teammate Smith also took a cheeky swipe at RA and insisted that recruiting one outside back from rugby league isn't going to help the Wallabies beat the All Blacks. "Like (ARLC chair) Peter V'landys said, go over, get that easy money and then come back to the real sport," Smith said. "That $1.6 million could've been spent better on the grassroots of rugby."
Former Wallabies captain questions Joseph Suaalii deal
That sentiment has been echoed by former Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock, who's questioned the logic behind Rugby Australia's multi-million-dollar investment in one player. Like Suaalii, Mortlock is a King's School alumni and despite knowing what RA is acquiring in the code-hopping prodigy, can't justify the lofty price tag.
"Look, there's no doubt he's a weapon. Even when he was playing under-16s, you could see he was a freakish talent and a class above the others," Mortlock told AAP. "But $1.6 million per annum? That could have kept 19 or 20 other players in the system."
Others, such as Waratahs forward Jed Holloway and Queensland Reds backrower Fraser McReight, believe Suaallii's recruitment will help create a buzz around rugby in Australia, and ultimately, entice more people to the game.
"It's good to see rugby in the headlines again, creating a bit of controversy," Holloway said. "I was in the squad when Izzy (Folau) got announced; I think I was only 19 at the time.
"I remember going home and being so excited one of my heroes was coming over to rugby union. Joseph's kind of the same age as a lot of the young guys here, but he has that presence and aura around his name."
McReight added: "Personally, I don't feel conflicted at all (about Suaalii's RA deal). "You hear things in the locker room but from all reports it is positive and I assume that comes from a place of competitiveness and the great buzz (it's created) in Australian rugby. If we're trying to be competitive and push the boundaries, I think that's good for the game."
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