Cash-strapped Rugby Australia (RA) has denied splashing out $3 million to nab teenage whiz Joseph Suaalii from under the noses of the NRL.
RA on Tuesday night coyly claimed a deal was “not done yet” after seemingly convincing the 16-year-old sporting sensation to turn his back on a $1.7 million offer to remain with South Sydney for three more years.
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 so-called next Greg Inglis long term before new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie swooped, having hotly pursued Suaalii since first trying to sign the prodigy in February.
With Souths not allowed to register the contract with the NRL until Suaalii turned 17 on August 1, Rennie and RA made their move and are now poised to win the tug-of-war for his services.
The Sydney teenager and 2019 Australian under-18s representative has starred for The King’s School’s First XV for the past two years.
“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.”
But, crippled financially by the coronavirus and having laid off 40 per cent of its staff, RA says promising Suaalii $1 million a year is crazy.
“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.
This would be a mighty coup for cash-strapped RAhttps://t.co/ncvTLFr0Aw
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 21, 2020
“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.”
The Rabbitohs offered AAP a “no comment” when contacted on Tuesday night.
A gifted all-round sportsman who has also excelled at AFL and basketball, Suaalii stands a towering 196cm, 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 “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 28-year-old man.”
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