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Suaalii not a 15 in rugby union says Wallaby great

By Ian Cameron
Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii and Israel Folau (Photo by Mark Kolbe/(Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

One of the Wallabies’ all-time great fullbacks doesn’t think code-hopping sensation Joseph Suaalii should play 15 when he switches back to rugby union in 2024.


Suaalii put in a romper performance for the Sydney Roosters just days after his multi-million dollar rugby union deal was struck, helping his team to a 28-20 win over Parramatta having slotted in at fullback for a concussed James Tedesco.

Yet Matt Burke doesn’t believe the controversial star should play in the 15-man game’s equivalent position.

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“All the talk is fullback in rugby league, and he did well on Thursday night when Teddy [James Tedesco] went off,” Burke said this week. “People are straight away saying he should play fullback in rugby union, but I don’t think so.”

Burke won 81 caps for the Wallabies at fullback during the comparative golden era of the 1990s and early noughties but doesn’t think the youngster would see enough ball in his old position.

“I reckon he would be a massive body at 13, a good runner of the ball with a good step. He would get his hands on the ball there, more so, and complement the people who are around him.”

Burke might see Suaalii as a Wallabies version of Sonny Bill Williams, but it’s another, even more, controversial code-hopper where similarities are eerily similar.


It’s hard to look at the 19-year-old and not see a young Israel Folau – at least in an on-field sense.

Both stand 6’5 and are powerfully built but athletic ball players who are equally happy in the air fielding high kicks as they are bringing the ball to the line.

Both share an offloading ability and an aerial prowess and have proven themselves to be prolific try-scorers, whichever code they’re playing. The duo are also known for their ability to create opportunities for their teammates.


Suallii, like Folau, can play in multiple positions, so there’s little doubt he could make a go of any position from 11 to 15. Unlike Folau, Suaalii has the benefit of having played union as a standout schoolboy talent.


While Folau’s relationship with Rugby Australia soured in the worst way imaginable, there’s no denying that he made an immediate impact in the game back in 2013, a feat that eludes the majority of rugby league crossovers.

Australian rugby will be hoping that lightning strikes twice with their $4.8 million dollar Suaalii gamble.




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