Aussie teen prodigy sparks League Vs Rugby war

Publish Date
Thursday, 30 March 2023, 5:07PM

Host of NRL 360 Paul Kent has blasted Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan over comments after the 15-man game signed Joseph Suaalii.

It was revealed last weekend that the 19-year-old prodigy had signed a $4.8 million, three-year deal with Rugby Australia for after the 2024 NRL season with a view to playing the British and Irish Lions in 2025 and Rugby World Cup in 2027.

But on Monday night, Bulldogs supremo and Channel 9 commentator Phil Gould said Suaalii should go now.

“Every time he scores a try, every time he does something in our game, people are going to refer to the fact that he’s going to rugby,” Gould said on 100% Footy.

“Why do we need that? Go now. Don’t let the door hit you on the arse on the way out. Go. Go now. Gone. He’s made his decision. You sign a contract for rugby 18 months before his league contract ends.”

It also came after Suaalii’s Roosters teammate and well-known larrikin Brandon Smith quipped: “Go over and get that easy money then come back to the real sport.”

Similarly, Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys said: “It’s hard to blame Joseph for going to rugby and considering it as his future when he is going to be paid twice the money for doing half the work.”

But McLennan hit back, blasting the NRL’s comments as “thuggish”.

“Here is a young man who is bettering himself, who has freakish talent and came from rugby originally and the leaders of that code are turning on him and Isaac Moses [Suaalii’s agent]. It is quite thuggish behaviour in my opinion,” McLennan told Nine newspapers.

McLennan further stirred the pot, saying another high-profile NRL player had reached out.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” McLennan said. “He wants the international exposure, the big stadiums and the international events.

“At rugby we are more pro-player. Longer careers, greater life experience, more focused on player welfare and more fun.”

If McLennan was looking to continue the code war, he got just what he wanted on Wednesday night as Kent took aim at the rugby boss.

“He’s the chairman, I’ve never heard of him before last week but I’ll tell you what, he’s got a bit of an issue this bloke,” Kent said.

“He’s driven by ego and he continues to talk about rugby league like … all this bulls**t the rugby people carry on about, ‘good on you playing an Eastern seaboard game — we travel the world’. Well good luck to you.

“The fact is, this is where we live. If you lived overseas, go and play rugby union, it’s the biggest code over there.

“But this whole Suaalii thing is leveraging rugby league’s popularity, so don’t try to s**tpot rugby league and call it a small game. The fact is the athletes are better. As Trent Robinson said today, of any rugby code, league or union, anywhere in the world, this is the premier competition — that’s the fact. That’s why they come here and that’s why they admire the way these guys play football.

“And he tries to get a little publicity off rugby league, I just think the sooner he can shut up the better for everybody.

“He called rugby league people thugs today because they weren’t happy with the way this deal was done. He was the one who did the little clandestine deal and didn’t want rugby league people to know what was going on. Come on, grow up and be a man about it.”

While rugby union has taken a hit in recent years in Australia with the Wallabies currently ranked seventh in the world - having not won a Bledisloe Cup since 2002 - World Cup since 1999 and dealt with dramas such as the Israel Folau scandal, it is still a popular international game.

The Australian Government’s Smart Traveller website has the Rugby World Cup as the third-biggest sporting event in the world, behind only the Fifa World Cup and Olympic Games.

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission

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