Rugby Australia chief executive Phil Waugh is critical of Hamish McLennan’s decision to lure Joseph Suaalii from the NRL, suggesting that the days of writing big cheques for players from rival codes are over.
In March, RA, under chairman McLennan, announced the signing of Suaalii from the Sydney Roosters.
Suaalii, a former Australian Schoolboys star, was compared to Israel Folau as a teenager and initially declined RA’s offer to join the Roosters while still in school.
Looking to elevate the Wallabies’ standing, McLennan believed that bringing in a young talent with a rugby background would boost the team ahead of the British and Irish Lions series in 2025 and the home World Cup in 2027.
The signing reportedly cost RA around $4.8 million over three years, and Suaalii is expected to switch codes at the end of the 2024 NRL season.
McLennan lauded the signing, stating that the State of Origin player was finally “home.”
Former Wallabies player Morgan Turinui suggested that Suaalii’s potential impact and the attention he would attract to rugby would justify his contract.
However, others questioned the expense of signing Suaalii, insisting that RA should focus on developing its own talent rather than overspending.
In addition, player agents warned that Suaalii’s hefty price tag would inflate the market for other rugby players.
Now, the Waratahs and RA are under pressure to retain the rising stars Mark Nawaqanitawase and Max Jorgensen in the rugby world.
Both players are up for contract renewal at the end of 2024 and would likely command substantial deals to keep them in the sport.
In fact, Nawaqanitawase, who recently signed a one-year extension, has already attracted interest from NRL teams and international clubs.
Meanwhile, the NRL is considering providing salary-cap exemptions to assist clubs in recruiting rugby players.
This situation places additional pressure on RA, who had recently announced its strategic alignment with the NSW Waratahs. At a time when RA is emphasizing financial responsibility and the development and retention of talent, they are faced with increased competition for their players.
RA CEO Phil Waugh emphasized the importance of creating an attractive environment for players beyond just financial remuneration.
He highlighted the Waratahs and Wallabies player Max Jorgensen’s direct transition from school to professional rugby as an ideal model.
When asked if this meant the end of pursuing NRL players, Waugh stated that it may indeed be unnecessary.
RA has a history of recruiting from the NRL, as former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones successfully swayed Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri, and Mat Rogers to join rugby prior to the 2003 World Cup.
More recently, RA offered Roosters back-rower Angus Crichton a two-year deal with the Western Force in September, though initial reports suggesting a $1.6 million contract were found to be inaccurate, with the actual offer less than half that amount.