Rugby Australia (RA) have been shown a glimmer of hope in their unlikely battle to sign a 16-year-old schoolboy star, who looks poised to sign with an NRL club.

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Joseph Suaalii, a Year 11 student at The King’s School in Sydney, is the subject of a mega-deal in rugby league circles that would make him the richest teenager in the history of the NRL.

Despite significant interest from RA, reports have linked the Australian Schools and U18 representative to the South Sydney Rabbitohs on a four-year deal worth $2 million.

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In conversation with Bryan Habana

Sualii, who has represented New South Wales at age-grade level in rugby union, rugby league, AFL and basketball, began playing for his school’s 1st XV at the age of 14, and had represented his state’s and country’s U18 sevens teams before his 16th birthday.

Reports indicate incoming Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie offered the 1.97m behemoth a three-year contract with the Waratahs from when he turns 18, but it appears Sualii is on the precipice of pledging his allegiance to the 13-man code.

Set to earn $500,000-per-season, the Waratahs Academy member is said to be viewed as South Sydney’s long-term replacement to star fullback Latrell Mitchell, but RA haven’t given up hope yet.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Sualii isn’t exclusively committed to the Rabbitohs until his 17th birthday, and won’t be eligible to play first-grade rugby league until next year.

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With that in mind, RA is hoping a possible tilt at an Olympics gold medal in sevens at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which have been postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, could be enough to sway the cross-code phenomenon.

Had the Olympics not been delayed, Sualii would have been too young to compete at the event that was initially scheduled to kick-off next month.

Although he won’t have turned 18 until shortly after the closing ceremony of next year’s Games, the Herald reports that RA officials are confident Sualii would be cleared to compete after having previously been granted a handful of special dispensations for other 17-year-old athletes to play in open-grade sevens competitions.

“I hope rugby plays on its strengths,” Australian Schools and U18 coach Peter Hewat, who last year included Sualii in his squad that defeated their New Zealand counterparts for the first time in seven years, said.

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“At their age their careers could span Olympics, a tour against the [British and Irish] Lions and the next three World Cups. Without putting pressure on them, that would be a pretty big carrot for me as a young player.”

RA could look to New Zealand Rugby for inspiration in terms of snatching teenagers from under the noses of NRL clubs after they managed to lure a teenaged Etene Nanai-Seturo despite him having already signed a deal with the Warriors.

At the age of 15, the electric outside back had signed a five-year deal with the Auckland-based NRL club in 2015, but continued to play both codes at an elite level during his high school years.

The 2017 New Zealand Schoolboys representative then controversially played in two World Sevens Series tournaments for the All Blacks Sevens two years ago while still under contract with the Warriors.

The year beforehand, the player’s lawyers had sent a letter of resignation to the Warriors, claiming the contract he signed as a 15-year-old wasn’t binding due to the age that he committed to the deal.

Both NZR and the Warriors came to an agreement shortly after Nanai-Seturo’s appearances at the Hamilton and Sydney Sevens tournaments, with the league side releasing him under terms and conditions that have remained confidential.

Nanai-Seturo has since gone on to play for the All Blacks Sevens over 60 times, winning the gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and has played for Counties Manukau and the Chiefs in the Mitre 10 Cup and Super Rugby.

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