Rugby Australia are poised to pull off a mighty coup and win the million-dollar tug-of-war for the services of teenage whiz Joseph Suaalii. RA on Tuesday coyly claimed the deal was “not done yet” after reports surfaced that 16-year-old Suaalii was set to turn his back on a $1.7million offer to remain with NRL club South Sydney for three more years.

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Like super-coach Wayne Bennett, Suaalii is contracted to Souths until the end of next season. But the Rabbitohs had hoped to lock down the prodigious talent long term until new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie apparently swooped having hotly pursued Suaalii for Rugby Australia since first trying to sign him in February.

With Souths unable to register the contract with the NRL until Suaalii turned 17 on August 1, Rennie and RA time have seemingly talked the teenager into a late change of heart. But cash-strapped RA has denied promising Suaalii $1m a year.

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A gifted all-round sportsman who has also excelled at AFL and basketball, Suaalii stands a towering 196cm and weighs 96kg and spent the off-season training with the Rabbitohs NRL squad.

Souths great turned assistant coach Sam Burgess last month hailed the hulk as incredible. “Look, I hate rapping young kids,” Burgess told Fox Sports.

“I’ve seen him first-hand, training with the first team and forget his athletic ability, what I saw inside Joseph Suaalii that day, I saw (how) we took him to the edge of the cliff and he hung on for dear life and he had the courage of a 25- to a 28-year-old man.”

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The Rabbitohs offered AAP a “no comment” when contacted on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, former Super Rugby chiefs boss Rennie has suggested his successor as Wallabies coach should ideally be Australian. “The ideal scenario is that the next coach is Australian and there needs to be some thought around that,” he told The Australian. 

“If there is someone ready to go after the (2023) World Cup, that may be in the best interests of Australian rugby. You can’t think too far ahead in this game. I’m fully committed to the (2023) World Cup but what happens beyond that… there has to be an emphasis around identifying and developing other coaches to coach Australia.”

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