Splash the cash on a hot prospect or reward others who have already proved their worth? Two Aussies take opposite views in this debate from our October 2020 issue

Should Australian rugby outbid NRL for teenage stars like Joseph Suaalii?

Sports PR director with Thrive

To be clear, I don’t know Joseph Suaalii. But judging by his highlights and the media reports, he’s an incredibly talented young man with a good head on his shoulders and a supportive family who just want what’s best for him.

In this instance, I’m thinking more about what’s best for Australian rugby. And regardless of his talent, I just don’t think it makes sense to be offering big sums of money to an untried player who hasn’t opposed adults yet at a time when the game is financially imperilled.

We keep hearing from New Zealand that the depth of talent in Australia isn’t there to compete with our mates across the ditch.

However, if you scour the globe you will see more than a half-century of Australian players more than capable of competing at Super Rugby level. In fact, there are more professional Australian rugby players plying their trade overseas than there are here at home!

So many players were burnt by the system here. There’s a litany of unheard horror stories, including one club’s Player of the Year being offered a ridiculously low salary because they thought his family circumstances meant he wouldn’t be willing to move cities. But the game appears to finally be on track, ready to stand up for itself and look after its own.

Money set aside to coax a schoolboy away from joining rugby league should be spent on retaining blokes who have already done the hard yards here, and/or bringing back players abroad who have shown their capabilities at this level. Let our young players develop as they should – from school footy into elite pathways and clubs, and then professional footy.


Rugby writer for ESPN Australia

Australian rugby is in need of a hot new talent, someone it can market to the kids who want a Wallabies jersey with their favourite player’s name on the back. And I think, in a few years’ time, that could well be Joseph Suaalii.

And the way that Rugby Australia has framed its contract offer to Suaalii, or at least what we can garner from conflicting media reports, could make that possible.

Why not sign him on a two-year deal, that includes the Olympics, followed by what will be a new provincial professional competition the year after and then, if his form warrants, Wallabies selection? That would give him a taste of what rugby has to offer, followed by the lure of a Rugby World Cup and British & Irish Lions series.

I’ve had the fortune to watch Suaalii play once in each of the past two years and can tell you it is scary how much he moves like Israel Folau. He’s also put on an incredible amount of bulk in the 12 months between each of those two GPS schoolboy rugby matches that I saw.

James O'Connor, Australia

Early baptism: Australia stand-off James O’Connor first played for the Wallabies at just 18 (Getty Images)

And coaches who have been involved with Suaalii tell me he is a fantastic young kid. There aren’t too many 17-year-olds who turn up to help junior sides in their spare time, just as Suaalii not too long ago while he was adorned across the back pages in Sydney.

He’s not going to win you a Rugby World Cup, but he is definitely an X-factor player that other talented youngsters will want to play with.

What do you think? Email your views to rugbyworldletters@futurenet.com

This debate first appeared in the October 2020 issue of Rugby World.