It’s the cross-code tug of war that’s got everyone in league and union talking about a schoolboy sensation named Joseph Suaalii.
Suaalii, still just 16, signed with the Rabbitohs last month on a reported $1.7m NRL deal spread across three years.
Then on Tuesday reports emerged that he was ready to backflip on the Bunnies for a $3m contract with Rugby Australia.
While CEO Rob Clarke, however, said that figure was inaccurate.
Whatever the exact cost of Rugby Australia’s outlay on the prodigious talent, one thing is for certain: the move has split the game in Australia down the middle.
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Former Wallaby Rod Kafer hailed the move on Fox Sports’ Rugby podcast.
“Whether it’s the right price or not, I know Joseph personally. My kids know him. I coached against him once,” Kafer revealed. “I can tell you when you see a kid at that age who you can easily recognise is one of the best talents you’ve seen in my nearly 50 years of watching rugby, I’ve seen some games and seen some talent.
“This kid is special, he’s a generational player and they come along every now again. The greats get recognised very early, and I saw this kid as a 13 year old and knew he was something special … irrespetivce of what the cost is they only come along every so often.”
Tim Horan, meanwhile, said Suaalii’s capture by Rugby Australia was a positive for the sport as it had to keep rival codes away from the game’s top young talent.
“I think it’s a real positive sign for rugby moving forward,” Horan said. “The big challenge for our game is keeping top 20 schoolboys for those years after schoolboy rugby finishes. That’s where we’ve missed the mark. We think because they play at school, they’ll automatically want to play afterwards.”
But the bold move has not been overly popular in some quarters.
Peter FitzSimons has argued that spending so much money on a teenager comes with huge risks.
“Rugby Australia has been gambling and gambling with these millions of dollars and they’ve put money on Wendell Sailor, they’ve put money on Mat Rogers,” FitzSimons told Wide World of Sports.
Suaalii offers aren’t real
“They’ve gambled big money on these players over the years and it’s rarely made a return.
“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. We’re going to put money on this one and we’re just going to hope he comes up a winner. A desperate move.”
The Brumbies have the most complete game of the Super Rugby AU teams.
With the stability of their group generally, they’ve been able to bring in younger players but surround those players with plenty of experienced players and help speed up their development.
They’ve really shown their maturity in close finishes against the Reds and the Waratahs, games they won at almost the last possible moment.
There’s no question that having that mix of youth and experience is the right recipe for those kinds of situations, as long as you get the balance right.
When it comes to threats, the Brumbies have shown they have weapons across the board.
Their driving maul is an obvious weapon and they are able to generate tries from that with almost every second opportunity that they have there.
The maul is a fundamental part of the fabric of rugby and the Brumbies are certainly the best in Australia when it comes to executing that skill.
That strength is mixed with a very potent back three as well, with players like Tom Banks, Solomone Kata, Tom Wright and Andy Muirhead all major threats.
For the past three years, Queensland has hidden behind the idea of being a young team and at times, used that to explain away mistakes and losses.
Being young is not an excuse to lose and there is a very strong sense that mentality is changing in 2020.
You can see in every game they play they really come into with a desperation to clinch a win.
Discipline remains their biggest sticking point and I think maybe there is still some finesse to be found there.
It seems, from an outsider’s view, that at times Reds players go for the “tough” play, like shooting out of the line in defence and going for the big hit rather than being patient.
Once they come to grips with the idea that being tough is not about giving away silly penalties but about learning to stay in games within the boundaries of the law consistently over a full game, they will immediately become a far more threatening prospect and arguably the most threatening in this competition.
The Rebels sit mid-table but I think they’ve probably been a little bit of a disappointment in Super Rugby AU.
There are a lot of good senior players in that squad who haven’t really played to their potential in this tournament.
On the flip side, the young players they have blooded like Trevor Hosea, Esei Ha’angana and Pone Fa’amausili have all been impressive.
This is probably the first time coach Dave Wessels has had to consider how to regenerate his side so holistically.
The pack is really starting to lift with the injection of some of those younger players but the backline still feels a little bit stale at times, not firing in the way that maybe it could.
They have opportunity to make some change and, though that’s limited somewhat by players they have access to, the next five weeks will be a good chance for them to re-energise and take the next step up.
The Waratahs might not be getting the results they want but coach Rob Penney has been unwavering in his long-term view of the team.
Penney and his coaching staff have been courageous in their commitment to picking and sticking young players.
It would have been easy for them to try and move away from that strategy after some disappointing outings but he has held firm.
There’s plenty of evidence that those players are benefiting from that approach – flyhalf Will Harrison is an obvious one but also centre Joey Walton and James Ramm on the wing have been impressive.
Even a player like Ned Hanigan, who has finally been able to settle into one position after a time as a lock trying to double up as a back rower, could be counted in that number.
There’s an adage in coaching that it’s often a player’s potential that gets coaches sacked.
When you’re picking on potential that’s when coaches can play with fire but Penney appears to have the faith of the organisation behind him as well, which is pivotal.
They just need to keep hanging in there in these leaner times and they will get the payoff eventually.
Tahs effort was unacceptable
The Force have started to impress in Super Rugby AU after their time out of Super Rugby.
When you look at the squad they brought into the competition, it was generally made up of fringe Super Rugby players or players more towards the back end of their careers.
They certainly have some exciting young players like winger Byron Ralston, but arguably no out and out A-grade superstars.
They’ve taken a little time to adjust but they took the Rebels to Super Time last weekend and that was a rea advertisement of how far they’ve come in such a short period of time.
That’s a credit to coach Tim Sampson and his team, who have really brought this group together.
The Force are yet to play a home game, and are unlikely to be able to go back to Perth at all and that kind of upheaval can often have a detrimental effect on players.
Instead, they’ve continued to improve each week.
It wouldn’t surprise me if they get a win or two in the back end of the competition.
They’ll certainly see the Waratahs game as an opportunity for victory and they’ll have no fear against the Reds and Brumbies.
After five weeks, the two best teams are the Reds and the Brumbies and I think they’ll be vying for the title in September.
At the moment the Brumbies have the more complete game but the Reds may have more upside to keep improving and if they do, they’re going to become very difficult to beat.