Rugby Australia has missed out on a rising star dubbed the “next Israel Folau” after boom schoolboy Joseph Suaalii opted to sign with South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Suaalii, 15, has signed on with the NRL club until 2021 despite having three years of schooling to complete at leading Sydney rugby nursery, The King’s School, and after having made the First XV as a 14-year-old.
While Suaalii was raised on rugby league in Penrith and had been part of South Sydney’s Harold Matthews Cup team, Rugby Australia had reportedly hoped to create a pathway that would see him remain in the 15-man game once his schooling had finished.
But Souths have beaten Australian rugby to the punch again, just a handful of years after now Roosters-forward Angus Crichton opted to switch codes following a meeting with NSW Waratahs and Rugby Australia officials.
Suaalii was unveiled by the Rabbitohs on Tuesday morning alongside Lachlan Elias, an 18-year-old back who also shares a strong rugby background from his time at Trinity College.
“We believe Joseph and Lachlan have long and fruitful NRL careers in front of them,” Rabbitohs’ General Manager of Football Shane Richardson said.
“Joseph has the body shape and skill levels that extend well beyond his years, but most importantly, he has a desire to achieve everything he can in rugby league through hard work and persistence.
“Lachlan has shown he can play just about anywhere in the backline and we can see him developing into an NRL quality player in time through our pathways system.
“It’s exciting to see young talent like Joseph and Lachlan in the red and green, showing the Rabbitohs are the club of choice for young talent in our game and young players from other codes, and I’m sure our members will also enjoy watching them progress through the years.”
Suaalii had drawn comparisons to Folau because of his athletic build, the 15-year-old already tipping the scales at 93kg and standing 193cm.
He had had already shown significant promise in sevens in making the NSW and Australia national schoolboy teams while also winning selection in the GPS First XV team, after starring on the wing as part of The King’s School’s joint-premiership winning First XV.
Rugby Australia has been approached for comment.