Star's plea for young sporting prodigy
Veteran journalist and author Peter FitzSimons has called for teenage phenom Joseph Suaalii to sign with Rugby Australia as the cross-code tug of war rages on.
After weeks of speculation, Suaalii reportedly backflipped on his decision to pursue a career in rugby union, and the sporting prodigy was expected to sign with the South Sydney Rabbitohs on his 17th birthday.
However, as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald's Sam Phillips, Suaalii has been "spooked" by the overwhelming amount of media coverage, and is yet to pen a deal.
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In an open letter to the schoolboy, FitzSimons argued the 15-a-side code would provide Suaalii with an opportunity to become a global sporting figure, as rugby league does not boast the same international exposure.
"There is no doubt that turning out for, say the Rabbitohs, NSW and the Kangaroos would see a big return on commercialising that brand," FitzSimons wrote on The Sydney Morning Herald.
"But comparing that to the value of the global brand you'd have by being a household name around the planet, and not just the east coast of Australia? There is no comparison."
The former Wallaby also warned Suaalii about the increased threat of injury in the NRL, arguing rugby league is a more aggressive sport. After ARLC chairman Peter V'landys suggested the minimum age for NRL debut could be lowered to accommodate the 17-year-old last week, this is a valid concern.
"There can be no doubt whatsoever that league is the more brutal game," FitzSimons said.
"Rugby league types boast of their game's toughness, and for good reason - it is likely the toughest football code of the lot."
Lastly, FitzSimons reminded Suaalii there is a possibility he could have an Olympic gold medal hanging around his neck next year if he signs with RA.
"Think of the honour, the glory, the satisfaction of being part of a team that wins an Olympic gold medal. Sport has no higher prizes," FitzSimons wrote.
"You have the opportunity to be part of the Australian Sevens team that might win it."
Considering RA's chaotic 12 months off the field - featuring the Folau saga, baffling deal negotiations and financial turmoil - Suaalii would be tempted to stick with his guns and target the NRL.
Last month, The Daily Telegraph reported Rugby Australia were looking to sign the teenage phenom on a $3 million three-year deal. However, Rugby Australia interim chief executive Rob Clarke quickly denied the "totally fanciful" seven-figure sum.
"Right now, Rugby Australia reminds me of the gambler who's there at 6am in the morning, down to the last bit of rent money, and they've barely got the money to get the taxi home," FitzSimons said in July.
"We're going to put money on this one and we're just going to hope he comes up a winner. A desperate move."
NRL 360 host Paul Kent also questioned whether RA had put their eggs in the wrong basket.
"Rugby is not renowned for making smart decisions as of late, and this is another one that is very questionable," Kent said on Fox League.
"They're going to fast-track him into the Waratahs. Word is, when he turns 17 in August, that he will make his Waratahs debut.
"Rugby's been crying poor for the past six months. They're stuffed up their broadcast deal - they've knocked back $25 million a year, and they're now thinking of taking $10 million a year.
"They sit here, and they're going to pay this sort of money in a game that's getting scaled-down financially, it's crazy."
Suaalii has previously been compared to Greg Inglis and touted as a future superstar of the sport. Rabbitohs legends Sam Burgess and Craig Wing recently spoke about the freakish talent with Wing describing Suaalii as a combination of Sonny Bill Williams and Inglis.
"The thing that really stands out with Joseph is he's got the physique of a 19-year-old already," Wing told foxsports.com.au in February.
"When he moves he's really well balanced, he's got a great running technique and he glides across the ground.
"If I was to sum him up I would say he's like a combination of Sonny Bill Williams and Greg Inglis, if you put those two together."
Burgess also praised Suaalii's courage while training alongside the South Sydney first-grade squad during the recent off-season.
"Look, I hate rapping young kids, but 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," Burgess said.
"In the pre-season we tested him out with a bit of physical stuff and he responded.
"He was ripping in with all the contact drills with the big boys. He's got courage you don't normally see in kids until they grow up."
Originally published as Fitzy's plea to 17yo sporting prodigy