Former Wallaby Morgan Turinui says the Rugby Australia contract offer to teen sensation Joseph Suaalii is likely to be a fraction of the AU$3 million number being bandied around the Australian press.
It was reported last week that RA had made the offer and captured Suaalii from under the noses of the NRL’s South Sydney Rabbitohs, who had themselves offered the 16-year-old an unprecedented $1.7 million dollars. Likened to a young Israel Folau, the 6’5, 96kg 16-year-old Sydney teen is a 2019 Australian under-18s representative who’s been a star of the King’s School’s First XV for the past two years.
However Rugby Australia were quick to refute the claim the teen, who has been described as a sporting freak, was being offered AU$3 million over three years.
“Financial offers being speculated in the media presently are totally fanciful and are being propagated by the usual suspects whose sole interest it is to inflate and misrepresent contract values,” said RA interim CEO Rob Clarke earlier this week. “At this stage, there has been no agreement between Joseph, his family or his representation.
“Joseph Suaalii is an upstanding young man and a talented rugby player. We have made it no secret that we would like to keep Joseph within the rugby pathway.
“To be clear, whilst rugby cannot compete financially with our friends in the 13-man game here in Australia, many professional athletes choose to become part of our game because of the many other positive attributes and global opportunities it provides. It’s not all about money,” he said.
Now former Wallaby centre Turinui says he thinks the offer for the teen star is probably a fraction of the reported amount, likely in the region of $300,000 a year. “He obviously an exciting prospect, but there’s no way that (AU$3 million) can be true,” Turinui told The Tight Five Podcast.
“We all understand the financial year Rugby Australia just finished having and they find themselves in the midst of. I would think that something between $200,000 and $300,000 a year wouldn’t unreasonable for rugby.
“I think a lot of that would be an Australian Rugby Foundation chipping in. I don’t Rugby Australia would pay it out of their player-generated revenue salary. I’m probably more comfortable getting 10 juniors or three juniors, or the emerging Wallabies fighting fund, and the money being spent on those guys [rather] then on topping on top players’ salaries. I’m a big believer in the top players salaries being in direct relationship to how much money the game is generating. That’s the whole idea of the CBA and player-generated revenue.
“Their market value should be determined by how much they bring into the game. I like that model.”
“If we are in this battle that we believe we are in, then I’m pretty happy for people to commit funds to keep those type of guys.”
This is schoolboy Joseph Suaalii. Schoolboy ‘superstar’. I’m 47 and I don’t look as manly as this 16 year old. pic.twitter.com/vhFuENelHD
— Reg Roberts (@RugbyReg) July 26, 2020
Turinui also said he hopes that rugby looks after the player and prepares him for life after sport, something he believes union does better than its rivals in the 13-man code.
“I just hope that we don’t forget that we’re not rugby league – I don’t want to say this in a bad way – but if its something we’re offering this kid, I want it to be holistic. There should be career mentors, money for education. If he was to do a trade, if he wants to be a sparky, if he wants to be a pilot, I want him to planning for life after rugby and for rugby to take care of the human being.”
The tug-of-war for Suaalii talents might be the most intense of their kind for some years in Australian sport, but the hype around his talents are rare, even in hyperbolic world of schoolboy athletes. Rabbitohs legend and former England rugby union player Sam Burgess said he hasn’t seen the like of Suaalii and that he could even eclipse of the talents of Israel Folau or Greg Inglis.
“Look, I hate rapping young kids. It puts a lot of pressure on them and we rap them on potential and there’s plenty of kids the same age – but I’ve seen him play,” Burgess told NRL 360 after spending time with the Rabbitohs youngster during the off-season.
How would Australia's current contracted players feel if RA forks out the cash for this 16-year-old when they're already taking pay-cuts?
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 25, 2020
“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.
“And he was riding contact – this was six months ago – like any other first-grader. I’ve never ever seen a kid do that and never mind an outside back. So I hate rapping a young kid because it’s unwarranted, but I’ve seen him first-hand, he’s pretty special.”
NSW Waratahs coach Rob Penney says he’d have no qualms about fielding Suaalii in his Super Rugby AU team if a deal was done. “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.”
Penney said he had to talks to his playing squad – who have taken pay cuts – around the numbers being floated around Suaalii.
“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 sacrifice,” 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.”
Wallaby coach Dave Rennie has even taken the time to meet the teen in person. “I met him when I was here in January. Impressive athlete and a very mature kid for 16,” Rennie said last month. “Guys like Joseph, they command a lot of attention and clearly Souths are very interested in him and have thrown some serious money in front him.
“So he’s just an example of the type of kids that we want to keep in our game, but it’s a competitive market and it’s not easy.
“We’re going to miss out on some of these kids coming out of school but I think it’s important that we keep in contact with them and keep that relationship going so that when they’re making the next decision around a contract our game is still an option for them.”
additional reporting AAP
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now