NRL fans get their first glimpse of much-hyped of 17-year-old Joseph Suaalii when he runs out at centre for the Roosters’ feeder club North Sydney Bears against the Raiders in his first taste of senior football.
After finally being granted a release from arch rivals South Sydney, the Roosters are keen to see how the highly-touted youngster mixes it with grown men, although reports from Roosters training suggests he’s more than ready.
Suaalii, who dunked a basketball at 12 and played first XV rugby for King’s school in the GPS competition by 14, has impressed Roosters officials with his pure athleticism and his willingness to play physical in defence at such a young age.
A source even told the Sydney Morning Herald, after putting a shot on Roosters centre Joey Manu at training, Suaalii said, half-jokingly: “I’m going to take your spot.”
The Roosters have tried to downplay the attention he’s received – and it’s said that was one of the reasons why they named him for feeder team North Sydney Bears to give him a quiet introduction. Yet such is the interest in his first hit-out that Kayo Sports has opted to stream the event, which will also be shown on the nrl.com and NSWRL websites.
The Bears game will be Suaalii’s first proper hit-out since being part of the Australian under-18s schoolboy rugby side that toured New Zealand in October 2019. He hasn’t played rugby league since April 2019 after taking last season off to sort out his future.
“I’m pretty sure I’m the last one to coach him in rugby league,” Suaalii’s South Sydney Harold Matthews coach Gavin Sheehan told the SMH.
“He’s one of the most gifted athletes I’ve coached over my time and I’ve been in that space with Harold Matts and SG Ball for 20 years.
“He was my captain. I would say he’s the most mature footballer I’ve ever had.
“If he can develop with the strength and power he has got, he could develop into Israel Folau, the same sort of footballer.
“But it’s been a long time between drinks. It’s going to take a while to find his feet again.”
The Roosters will seek an exemption from the NRL to allow Suaalii to play first grade before the age of 18, considering they may have to wait until his birthday on August 1
Suaalii is listed to play in the centres rather than in his customary spot at fullback. Such is his confidence, it’s understood the teenager has already spoken to Roosters coach Trent Robinson that he is capable of playing at five-eighth should he need him.