NSW Waratahs coach Rob Penney says he’d have no qualms about throwing schoolboy sensation Joseph Suaalii into his Super Rugby AU team if a deal is completed with Rugby Australia (RA).

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Suaalii is the subject of a code tug-of-war between NRL club South Sydney and RA, with the 16-year-old fullback reportedly backing out of three-year NRL contract to pledge his allegiance to rugby.

Penney says he’s yet to meet Suaalii but was wowed by his highlights package and if he joined the Waratahs, his age wouldn’t stop him playing.

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“If he were to join us and he was deemed to be the best option then certainly he’d be selected,” Penney said on Thursday.

“It’s a professional environment; you have an eye on development but it’s about getting results and we probably haven’t been as consistent in that area as we would like.

“Age is no barrier.”

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Penney said he got on the front foot early this week after reports of a $3 million RA offer for Suaalii were floated in the media, aware of the angst it could cause for the cash-strapped code.

There have been mass job cuts at rugby’s headquarters, many Super Rugby staff are on Jobkeeper, while players accepted a 30 per cent pay cut for the year.

“There have been talks and we have addressed it as the reality is that all of our staff are on only percentages of their contractual earnings and people across the game have made sacrifices,” Penney said.

“The media reports could easily have undermined the environment and that was something I was really conscious of and we got on the front foot and opened the door for conversations should people need that.”

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But Penney added that RA still had to take a “big picture” view and consider recruitment and retention beyond the coronavirus pandemic.

He said that there was a lot of positivity about future Wallabies success, with the youthful Waratahs squad including a number of former schoolboy stars in their ranks.

Penney thought that rugby could offer Suaalii more than the NRL, given its global and Olympic status.

“The game can do a lot for someone like him – it’s a global game, there’s sevens, obviously the Olympics,” he said.

“There’s a life development opportunity outside of rugby that rugby provides on the back of its global identity.

“If it’s deemed by him and his parents that rugby is the way to go, we have a history of nurturing young men and we would love to be part of that process.”

– Melissa Woods

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