NRL fans get their first glimpse of the very excited 17-year-old Joseph Suaalii when he runs through the center of Roosters foster club North Sydney Bears against the Raiders in his first glimpse of senior football.
After finally securing a release from rivals South Sydney, the Roosters are eager to see how the highly touted youngster mixes it up with grown men, though Roosters training reports suggest he’s more than ready.
Suaalii, who soaked a basketball at 12 and played the first rugby XV for King’s school in the GPS competition at 14, impressed Roosters officials with her sheer athleticism and willingness to play physical in defense at such a young age.
A source even told the Sydney Morning Herald, after shooting Roosters center Joey Manu in practice, Suaalii said, half-jokingly: “I’ll take your place.”
The Roosters have tried to downplay the attention he’s received – and it’s said to be one of the reasons they appointed him to the North Sydney Bears feeder team to give him a low-key introduction. Yet the interest in its first hit-out is such that Kayo Sports chose to broadcast the event, which will also be shown on the nrl.com and NSWRL websites.
The Bears game will be Suaalii’s first hit since he was part of Australia’s Under-18 schoolboy rugby team which toured New Zealand in October 2019. He has not played in Australia. rugby since April 2019 after taking last season to sort out his future.
“I’m pretty sure I’m the last to coach him in the rugby league,” Suaalii coach South Sydney Harold Matthews Gavin Sheehan told SMH.
“He’s one of the most gifted athletes I’ve coached in 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 is the most mature footballer I have ever had.
“If he can develop with the strength and power he has, he could become Israel Folau, the same kind of footballer.
“But it’s been a long time between drinks. It’ll take a while to regain its marks.”
The Roosters will seek an NRL exemption to allow Suaalii to play as a freshman before the age of 18, given that they may have to wait until her birthday on August 1.
Suaalii is listed to play in crosses rather than his usual spot at the back. Such is his confidence, it is understood that the teenager has already spoken to Roosters coach Trent Robinson that he is capable of playing five-eighths if he needs him.