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Joseph Suaalii is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist for Rugby Australia

By Ben Smith
(Photos by Mark Kolbe/ Matt King/Getty Images)

Rugby Australia’s coup of Roosters star Joseph Suaalii on a three-year deal from 2025 is a major boost for the game in need of star power to attract interest in the competitive Australian landscape.

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The 19-year-old is as gifted an athlete as they come with his best years still ahead. Not since former Israel Folau has a high-profile NRL star made the code switch during or before the peak of his powers.

The deal is a marketing masterstroke to generate excitement ahead of the British & Irish Lions tour and the home Rugby World Cup in 2027 but they’ve been down this path before.

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Eddie Jones will hope that the new league recruit will have as much impact as Folau did in his Test debut in the last Lions series in 2013 when he burst onto the scene with two stunning tries in Brisbane.

If Suaalii can produce anything near what Folau did during his six-year career with the Wallabies, he will do well.

Folau still is one of the best athletes the game has ever seen. The fullback was a try-scoring freak who could pull miracles out by running a dream line and bursting through multiple defenders.

He pulled rabbits out of hats regularly to give the Wallabies a fighting chance, blazing his way to 37 tries in 73 Tests but finished with more losses than wins with a 47.3 per cent winning record.

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There were no Bledisloe Cup series wins and there was just one truncated Rugby Championship title. The pinnacle during Folau’s time was probably the World Cup final appearance in 2015.

The bottom line is the Wallabies didn’t win a whole lot despite having one of the best athletes the game has seen, a weapon that proved time and time again he could only be contained momentarily.

Rugby Australia got what they wanted in terms of on-field production from Folau and it wasn’t enough. He wasn’t the cure to fix their fortunes and provide a sustained period of winning.

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The Wallabies already have a crop of outside backs full of talent that Suaalii will join.

On the wings, there is Marika Koroibete based in Japan, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Andrew Kellaway, Tom Wright, Jordan Petaia, and another league convert Suliasi Vunivalu.

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Len Ikitau is a world class centre, one of the best defenders going around and a sure starter in the 13 jersey. Hunter Paisami, Izaia Perese, Lalakai Foketi are all good enough while when available, Samu Kerevi is the world’s best ball-running 12.

The talent out wide is not the problem. While you’d rather have him than not, Suaalii is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist for Rugby Australia.

By the sounds of it, Eddie Jones is prepared to dull down the Wallabies game plan to become ‘junkies for winning, not junkies for possession’ and rely on power rugby up front and territorial kicking.

If that is the case, then Suaalii won’t have a lot of work to do unless he can drive the Wallabies around the park with an out-of-hand kicking game.

The Waratahs signing of giant Clermont 20-year-old lock Miles Amatosero may prove to be more valuable to Rugby Australia than Suaalii, who will bolster the tight five options with a young behemoth with rare physical traits.

Jones should hope that the Tahs just don’t ruin his new locking prospect. The transformation of Will Skelton highlights that possibility, who became a much fitter and dynamic player in France after leaving Sydney.

Recently capped French lock and former Melbourne Rebels prospect Emmanuel Meafou, the 202cm and 145kg forward, also found the same improvement once he left Australia and thrived in a different environment.

The signing of Suaalii is a great narrative for Rugby Australia, but landing a few more Amatosero’s might be worth more substance as well as making sure the players that are already there reach their potential.

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Comments

3 Comments
B
Billie 476 days ago

Suaalii is a generational talent that doesn’t exist in the current Wallabies squad, so without doubt it’s worth taking a risk. Plus he should bring a few eyes from League over.

l
lot 476 days ago

well, that's because you're not Aussie mate. Suaalii is not a solution, he is to Cause Problems for opposition. And a solution for lack of interest in the code! that's why you're writing a little piece like this and not an Administrator or a Coach 😆

W
Willie 476 days ago

It seems McLennan is now the selector as neither Jones nor Coleman had anything to do with this recruitment.
Someone should tell "Hammer", we need to get the ball before spending millions on unemployed outside backs.

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