Samoan Rugby League International To’oto’ooalii Anavaotaua Joseph Suaalii has officially signed with Rugby Australia and the NSW Waratahs in a deal reportedly worth AUD $1.6 million per season.
The 19-year-old is said to have signed a three year deal to the end of 2027 to become Australia’s highest-paid rugby player in history.
To’oto’ooalii Anavaotaua’s management have informed the Sydney Roosters he will be departing the club at the end of his current contract term.
Suaalii is contracted to the Roosters until the end of the 2024 NRL season in October of that year.
In a statement released by the Roosters on Saturday afternoon, Head Coach Trent Robinson says Suaalii has been transparent with the Club throughout negotiations.
“We respect his decision,” said Robinson.
“He has made his commitment to the Roosters club for the next year and a half crystal clear, and we’re excited about the path we’re on,” he added.
To’oto’ooalii also emphasised his commitment to the Club, saying: “The Sydney Roosters have been great to me and my family since I got here and the club is always going to be a big part of me.
“There’s still a long way to go in my journey with the Roosters and my sole focus is on working hard everyday to keep improving and performing my role for the team,” he added.
Sua’ali’i excelled in both rugby codes throughout his junior career. He was selected in the Australian Schoolboys as well the Under 18 representative teams.
“Welcome back to Rugby, Joseph,” Rugby Australia Chair, Hamish McLennan told The Australian.
“This is the first step in building towards the Lions and the Rugby World Cup in Australia,” he added.
The three year rugby union deal will allow Suaalii to play for the Wallabies against the British and Irish Lions in 2025, and the 2027 World Cup which Australia will host.
The Lions tour Australia every 12 years, and so the opportunity to play for the Wallabies would be a once-in-a-lifetime one for the young matai from Letogo and Satitoa.
Sua’ali’i was at the centre of a tug-of-war between the rugby codes in 2020 when he was still a student at The King’s School in Sydney.
Rugby league won out, although Sua’ali’i eventually chose the Roosters over South Sydney, with whom he had played at the junior level.
He was released from the remaining year of his contract with the Rabbitohs before making his NRL debut with the Roosters in 2021 after the ARL Commission granted him an exemption to play first grade before he had turned 18.
Sua’ali’i was a key part Samoa’s Rugby League World Cup campaign and played in the grand final loss to Australia.
He was also selected in NSW’s wider squad during the 2022 State of Origin series.
Suaalii’s move will be rugby’s biggest coup out of the NRL in two decades, after Mat Rogers, Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuqiri all crossed codes in the early 2000s.