Jones coy as Rugby Australia closes in on NRL’s Suaalii

Jasper Bruce and Darren Walton |

Wallabies coach Eddie Jones has dodged questions about Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii amid reports Rugby Australia has lured the rugby league star to the 15-man code from 2025 on an eye-watering $1.6 million-a-year deal.

An elite rugby talent during his days at The Kings School in Parramatta, Suaalii earlier this month re-signed with the NRL’s Sydney Roosters through to 2024.

However, the 19-year-old has designs on playing fullback long-term and is currently being kept out of the position by James Tedesco, who captains the Roosters, NSW State of Origin and Australia Test sides.

The Roosters’ last week re-signed Tedesco through to 2025, putting Suaalii’s fullback hopes further in doubt.

On Friday, News Corp reported Rugby Australia (RA) had made its move on Suaalii by offering him a $1.6 million deal for 2025 that would make him the most significant signing the struggling code has pulled off in years.

The sum is unable to be matched by the NRL – the salary cap for an entire 30-man roster this season is $12.1 million – but the contract has reportedly not yet been finalised.

Amid speculation about his future, Suaalii spent part of the Roosters’ bye week on a tour of Tamworth, where he and teammate Luke Keary participated in community events organised by the Roosters and sponsor Steggles.

Quizzed about Suaalii’s signing at the Australian Schools Rugby Foundation fundraising luncheon on Friday, Jones said he was only concerned with the Wallabies’ immediate future.

“The only thing I’m worried about is this World Cup,” he said.

“I’ve got no thought pattern past (the World Cup final on) October 28. Zero. And I can’t afford to.”

Suaalii would join the likes of towering ex-NRL players Israel Folau and Sonny Bill Williams in making the jump to rugby union, while Mat Rogers, Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuqiri all featured in Jones’ 2003 World Cup final side after also making successful transitions.

A switch to rugby union in 2025 would be timely, with the Wallabies set to host the British & Irish Lions for their first tour of Australia since 2013.

But Suaalii’s mooted return to rugby – which RA declined to confirm on Friday afternoon – hasn’t gone down well with everyone in the 15-man code.

There were grumblings at Friday’s 50th anniversary of the first Australian schoolboys function that Suaalii’s mega pay packet will rob other young developing talent of the chance to come through the system.

Jones distanced himself from the recruitment process when it was put to the Wallabies coach that “apparently there’s players in rugby who might be a bit annoyed if you brought in somebody from outside”.

“Well, firstly, I’m not a general manager so I don’t contract players. It’s not in my realm,” Jones said.

“The main thing is that we want to make sure the young players coming through are given the opportunity to be the best player they can be.”