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'Back home': 19-year-old 'freak' NRL star signs multimillion deal with Rugby Australia

25th March, 2023
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25th March, 2023
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Hamish McLennan was told during the week to “get it done.” And done the Rugby Australia chairman has indeed.

Joseph Suaalii – dubbed the next Israel Folau as a 16-year-old – has signed a three-year multimillion deal with Rugby Australia. He will join the Wallabies ahead of the 2024 Spring Tour.

McLennan confirmed the news when contacted by The Roar.

“He’s the epitome of a great rugby person,” McLennan told The Roar.

“We are delighted to have him back home.”

It’s understood the deal is worth $1.6 million per season – making him one of Australia’s most expensive sports stars.

RA are backing him not only to help win matches, but increase sponsorships and drive interest in the game and fans through the gates. Indeed, he is the biggest signing in the game since Israel Folau famously joined Michael Cheika’s Waratahs in 2013.

Joseph Suaalii looks dejected after a loss during the NRL Elimination Final match between the Sydney Roosters and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Allianz Stadium on September 11, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Joseph Suaalii has signed a three-year deal with Rugby Australia. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

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His NRL side, the Sydney Roosters, confirmed the 19-year-old would leave the club following the 2024 season.

“Joseph has been transparent with the club and we respect his decision,” Roosters head coach Trent Robinson said in a statement.

“He has made his commitment to the Roosters club for the next year and a half crystal clear, and we’re excited about the path we’re on.”

PENRITH, AUSTRALIA - JULY 01: Joseph Suaalii of the Roosters runs the ball during the round 16 NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the Sydney Roosters at BlueBet Stadium on July 01, 2022 in Penrith, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

The NRL broke their own laws to allow Joseph Suaalii to make his debut for the Roosters as a 17-year-old. Photo: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

Suaalii thanked the Roosters for their role in developing his burgeoning career.

“The Sydney Roosters have been great to me and my family since I got here and the club is always going to be a big part of me,” he said.

“There’s still a long way to go in my journey with the Roosters and my sole focus is on working hard every day to keep improving and performing my role for the team.”

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His signing comes a day after Wallabies coach Eddie Jones played a straight bat when asked by The Roar whether Suaalii was set to swap codes at an Australian Schoolboys lunch in Sydney.

“I’ve got no idea, mate. I’m only worried about this World Cup,” Jones said.

Wallabies coach Eddie Jones

Wallabies coach Eddie Jones will get his hands on Joseph Suaalii from the end of 2024. Photo: Matt King/Getty Images

He will join the Wallabies ahead of their 2024 Spring Tour, which will give Jones time to see the back in the flesh 10 months out from the 2025 British and Irish Lions tour.

His move is RA’s biggest signing since Cheika lured Folau to the game ahead of the 2013 Lions series.

Despite having no history in the game, the NRL superstar scored a double on debut for the Wallabies during their heart-breaking loss against the Lions in Brisbane.

Jones, who lured Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri and Mat Rogers, was pivotal in luring Suaalii to Australian rugby.

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Suaalii, who played on the wing for the Australian Schoolboys during their upset win over New Zealand Schools in 2019, will play for the Waratahs.

He spent the majority of his school career at The King’s School playing outside centre, but is capable of playing on the wing and fullback.

Joseph Suaalii takes a catch before diving over to score a try against the Parramatta Eels at Suncorp Stadium, on May 15, 2022, in Brisbane. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

His former Australian Schoolboys coach Peter Hewat said Suaalii was a phenomenal talent.

“I just thought he was a freak athlete,” Hewat told The Roar.

“He could play 13-out with ease. He glided along the ground. He was very good in the air. He was a freak basketballer and had a great vertical jump.

“But what I was surprised about what was that he was in year 10. He was asking questions and wanting to know more. Physically too, he was playing against kids much older than him but he and Tolu Koula were the standouts.”

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Nick Malouf

Nick Malouf says Joseph Suaalii will be an instant hit in rugby. Photo: Getty Images

On Friday, Australian Sevens captain Nick Malouf, who was a regular tryscorer for English Premiership heavyweights Leciester Tigers, said Suaalii would be “fantastic” wherever he played in rugby.

The World Series champion saw first-hand Suaalii’s potential when the burgeoning back, who was 15 at the time, left him winded and shellshocked when beaten in the air at a kick restart during a training session.

“Who snuck you this story?” he told The Roar. “He winded me. He came in and we went up for a restart against each other and I felt like I’d been hit by a tonne of bricks and he was 15.

“It’s not been a secret for a while how good he is and I certainly was on the receiving end when he was a youngster.

“He sat me down, won it and I got up thinking, ‘what the hell just happened there.’ He’s incredible.”

He added: “Wherever he plays, he’s going to be a weapon. Wherever he plays.”

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