Rugby Australia boss Rob Clarke has taken another shot at sections of Australia’s rugby league media amid the contract tug-o-war for Joseph Suaalii, as the code attempts to keep the talented multi-sport athlete in the 15-man game.
News that Suaalii had changed his mind and rejected a three-year deal from South Sydney in order to take up a last-ditch contract offer from RA was first reported on Tuesday evening, sending both codes and their respective media cohorts into overdrive.
But it was speculation around the value of RA’s contract offer to Suaalii and the suggestion that he would be choosing a lesser sport that have really riled Clarke, who is only acting as RA chief executive on a short-term interim basis following the departure of Raelene Castle.
Clarke alluded to four key events on the global stage as to why Suaalii might in fact choose the 15-man game, and that it wasn’t all about the money some media organisations had instead trumpeted.
“The Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games, the touring British & Irish Lions and the Rugby World Cup are four premier events in the global calendar and it’s only our sport that provides athletes the opportunity to represent Australia and compete against the best in the world on a regular basis. “The continued speculation about the financial offer from certain sections of the media is a tired and timeless tactic of attempting to pressure a young man into one choice and how dare anyone have the temerity to choose to play Rugby over another option?
“To be clear, whilst Rugby cannot compete financially with our friends in the 13-man game here in Australia, many professional athletes choose to become part of our game because of the many other positive attributes and global opportunities it provides…it’s not all about money.
“We congratulate Joseph on his journey so far in Rugby and we will continue to put our best foot forward, like we do with all our young talent, in the expansive opportunities that Rugby can offer.”
Suaalii had been expected to sign off on a three-year extension with the Rabbitohs when he turned 17 on August 1, NRL clubs only able to register a senior contract once a player has turned 17 years of age.
He may yet choose to honour a reported three-year deal worth $1.7 with the 2014 NRL premiers, a situation Clarke said he would do so with Rugby Australia’s best wishes.
“In this instance, Joseph may decide to pursue opportunities elsewhere and should he choose to do so, we would wish him every bit of luck in the future. Rugby will stand up and fight to be part of this conversation though, and conversations with other prospects into the future. Rugby’s pathways in Australia – in both Club and School Rugby – continue to produce world class talent and that is a testament to our coaches and our talent identification program.
“Rugby has the best workplace conditions in the professional game with the consistent support for training, education and wellbeing provided by Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA). Rugby Australia develops far more than just athletes but real people who embark on a pathway that does not cease when they are no longer taking the field, you are a part of the Rugby family for life.”
Rugby Australia did not walk away from the boom teenager when he signed a junior training contract with the Rabbitohs early in 2019, instead opting to keep the dialogue open in the hope that he might yet see his first senior footballing move in the 15-man game.
While that is yet to be officially revealed, RA is seemingly now right in the hunt compared to the position it was earlier in the year.
It is believed the bulk of RA’s contract offer has come from private benefactors with the code otherwise running on the smell of an oily rag following staff redundancies and pay cuts for the game’s near 200 professional players.