Rugby Australia (RA) chairman Hamish McLennan has slammed the NRL over their reaction to Joseph Suaalii’s decision to join rugby union.
The talented back, who played both codes before turning professional with the Sydney Roosters, inked a huge deal with RA last week, reportedly worth $1.6m.
He has signed with the Waratahs and will make the switch from rugby league after his Roosters contract expires at the end of 2024.
There have already been several jibes from the 13-man code, with Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys chief among them.
V’landys stated that teenage sensation Suaalii would “get terribly bored” playing union, adding: “He is going to be paid twice the money for doing half the work.”
“It’s been hysterical, really,” McLennan told ABC Sport Daily.
“They’re cry-babies. So, they’ve lost their rising star, their talent. Joseph has made the choice. I think they should respect his choice and they’re attacking his age and having a swing.
“The reality is, our guys travel the world. The current Wallaby crop will be playing at the third-biggest sporting event [Rugby World Cup] in France … our players get life experience that you wouldn’t get anywhere.”
Suaalii’s signing has also brought about a mixed response in Australian rugby union circles, with Wallabies great Stirling Mortlock unsure about the move.
“Look, there’s no doubt he’s a weapon. Even when he was playing under-16s, you could see he was a freakish talent and a class above the others,” Mortlock told AAP.
“But $1.6 million per annum? That could have kept 19 or 20 other players in the system.”
McLennan, however, very much disagrees with Mortlock and believes the addition of Suaalii can bolster the sport in other ways, not just on the field.
“We’re going to be growing the pie,” RA’s chairman said.
“With the current [RA] board, I would say we have been the most prudent board in the code’s history. Just between 2020 and now through COVID, we’ve cut $40 million worth of costs out of the organisation, so we’re putting it back now.
“We’re happy to pay our players well. That’s a good thing if you want to come and play rugby because you get to travel the world and you will be looked after by us at the elite level.
“But if we sell our media rights for more, we’ll have more money to put back into grassroots, so this is a strategy that will work and the public need to understand that.
“Our elite players, at the end of the day, will earn more than NRL players and we’re happy to pay them well.”
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