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‘Travelling the world’: Why NRL star Joseph Suaalii signed with Rugby Australia

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

NRL star Joseph Suaalii admits the opportunity to potentially play against the British and Irish Lions in 2025 played a key role in his sensational decision to swap codes.

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Following long-lasting rumours and speculation, Rugby Australia and the NSW Waratahs confirmed in March that they’d signed the Sydney Roosters flyer on a three-year deal.

Suaalii, who also represented Samoa at last year’s Rugby League World Cup, will remain with the Tricolours until the end of the 2024 season before switching codes in October.

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The teenager will ply his trade in rugby union until at least the end of the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia – an event that Suaalii said “speaks for itself.”

For the first time since Rugby Australia confirmed the headline-grabbing deal, Suaalii has opened up about what motivated him to jump codes.

“I always loved both games. I always had visions when I was younger of playing in both codes. It was something I always visualised and saw in my life,” Suaalii told The Daily Telegraph.

“The Lions Tour was one of my first encounters with union. It has been something that has always been a goal.

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“A home World Cup – playing in Australia – I think it speaks for itself.

“Money has never been my main factor. Obviously it plays a part but the World Cup, Lions Tour, Bledisloe Cup – I have always seen that as a bigger factor. Travelling the world is another key factor as well.

“I have taken up my option. All my focus is on playing for the Roosters this year and next year. Everyone at the club knows I want to be here for the remainder of my contract.”

Suaalii starred at First XV level at Kings College in Sydney and was widely considered a generational talent. A teenage athlete had never been talked about as much in Australian sports.

After capturing the attention of both codes – with NRL super coach Wayne Bennett describing the pressure on the then 16-year-old as “unfair” – Suaalii eventually inked a deal with the Roosters.

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Still only 19, the electrifying utility back has gone on to impress – and was even called into New South Wales’ State of Origin squad after just 12 games at NRL level.

Despite all the pressure and hype that followed the teenager into professional sport, Suaalii has managed to leap over every hurdle with both grace and poise.

But rugby union was always in his sights.

“I was really clear with (Roosters coach Trent Robinson) Robbo throughout the process of signing my deal with union,” Suaalii added.

“We were clear and honest with everyone. I still look to Robbo for advice off the field and on the field.

“He still is and always will be a mentor. I feel like Robbo and I have a great connection. He is the sort of man I aspire to become one day.

“It was a hard decision for me to leave. I always chase my dreams and that has always been in my heart.

“It is going to be hard to leave the Roosters in a couple of years but my heart and my dreams always come first.”

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