Written by Oliver Kellner-Dunk
Joseph Suaalii has had a breakout season for the Sydney Roosters after being under the media microscope for the past two years.
This was because at just 17 years old Suaalii signed a multi-million dollar contract to move from the South Sydney Rabbitohs to the Roosters.
With the Rugby League World Cup just a little under one month away Suaalii was expected to play for Australia but recently decided to follow in the footsteps of players such as Jarome Luai, Brian To’o and Junior Paulo by pledging his allegiance to Samoa for the tournament.
Kangaroos head coach Mal Meninga spoke to Fox Sports after being informed of Suaalii’s decision by the man himself and believes there needs to be an overhaul of Rugby League’s international eligibility rules.
“I’m not disappointed, but the fact is we need to have a look at how we clean it all up and the eligibility rules,” Meninga said.
“But I’m happy for them. If they make a decision that they want to play for their ancestral nations that is good for me.
“I’m really comfortable in the fact that the people we pick want to be there.
“The people who we pick want to put the green and gold jersey on and will give a great account of themselves playing for their nation.
🇼🇸 Teenage star Joseph Suaalii has boosted Samoa's World Cup campaign after declaring his allegiance to the side and could line up for them at RLWC2021.
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) September 21, 2022
“That’s the type of person we want and that is one of the first criteria of picking a national team is that they want to be there and play for their country.”
Paul Kent added to Meninga’s statement on NRL 360 last night.
“You want patriots not mercenaries,” said Kent.
“They will cop the money to play Origin, but they don’t want to play for Australia.”
For a while now we have seen the debate over eligibility has raged on with no change in sight.
Some believe this is an issue that could destroy State of Origin and the Australian national team while others see it as strengthening the International game.
However, the common denominator amongst most defectors from Australia is that they are relatively young and will likely still be playing by the time the 2025 Rugby League World Cup comes around, so for many of these players they will have an opportunity to represent Australia down the line but probably feel this is the perfect time to play for and get to win the World Cup with their heritage nation.