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The disgusting tug-o-war for Joseph Suaalii between league and union

Confused? Imagine being Suaalii, who is now already lumbered with more expectation and hype than most professional players before he’s played a single match of anything against a grown man.

On Wednesday, it was difficult separating fact from fiction concerning this story.

RA chief executive Rob Clarke phoned senior Wallabies players to insist the $3m figure was incorrect. It was embarrassing for a code that has no long-term broadcast deal and competition and is supposedly in the middle of a contract freeze.

Some rugby figures believe the number was floated by Souths types as subterfuge for them missing out on one of the most promising talents to emerge in either code for years. Others wondered if it was a ploy to create chaos in the 15-man code so Souths could force a backflip on his backflip.

If that’s the case, it’s dirty pool at best.

There was also talk owner Russell Crowe had flown Suaalii and his family to his Nana Glen farm to convince him to become a full-time Rabbitoh. Souths boss Blake Solly denied this was so, and Crowe didn’t reply when asked for comment, but you can bet Crowe will put on the Maximus voice and amp up the charm in order to sign the kid.

There’s growing concern among close friends about the pressure mounting on Suaalii and his humble family.

Meanwhile, there’s growing concern among close friends about the pressure mounting on Suaalii and his humble family.

He’s one of eight children but the cliché about him earning a huge payday for his family doesn’t ring true.

While Kalyn Ponga’s family once turned up to negotiations for their whizkid son wearing “TEAM PONGA” T-shirts, Suaalii’s family just wants the right decision — not the most lucrative — for their talented child.

Another emerging figure in negotiations is art dealer Steve Nasteski, a Souths tragic who is best mates with Craig Wing and unsuccessfully tried to lure Semi Radradra to Redfern last year.

He’s described himself to several people as Suaalii’s “adviser”, but some say that description has been overcooked. RA officials had never heard of Nasteski when his name was mentioned on Wednesday.

Hot pursuit: Joseph Suaalii is being pushed and pulled by all corners for his services.

Hot pursuit: Joseph Suaalii is being pushed and pulled by all corners for his services.Credit:Paul Seiser/SPA Images

Last year, Nasteski steered Suaalii towards the legendary James Erskine, who manages Shane Warne, David Warner and Ian Thorpe, but nothing eventuated beyond one meeting.

Indeed, Suaalii still has no manager, although many have tried to sign him in recent months.

Nasteski was watching his son get monstered by Suaalii at the NSW junior championships five years ago when he discovered he was standing next to the youngster’s father, Chris.

“Does he play rugby league?” Nasteski, whose son played for the Coogee Wombats, asked.

“Does he play rugby league?!” Chris laughed.

Soon after, Nasteski organised a trial match between the Wombats and Suaalii’s Glenmore Park at Heffron Park.

Who knows what was said or offered but soon after Suaalii was playing for the Wombats and about to land on South Sydney’s radar.

When Suaalii was 12, Nasteski approached Souths about securing the youngster. Souths head of football Shane Richardson rejected the idea straight away because of his age.

Who signs 12-year-olds? Nobody. Why? Because they’re 12-year-olds.

While clubs and junior leagues can offer scholarships and even pathways contracts of up to $59,000 a year (which Suaalii is presently on), players cannot be signed to a professional contract until they are 17. They can’t play until they are 18. Suaalii turns 17 next month.

Nasteski declined to comment on the record when contacted.

Souths have done everything they can to secure him since he starred in their Harold Matthews and SG Ball teams, including training sessions with the senior squad over summer.

Some Souths officials are also sceptical about the $3m figure, believing the offer to be closer to $600,000 a season.

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What they really believe interests Suaalii is representing Australia in sevens rugby at next year’s Tokyo Olympics, which has been dangled in front of the teenager for some months.

Talk to people at the Australian Olympic Committee and they suggest that’s about as fanciful as paying Suaalii $3m because, in all reasonable likelihood, they will be cancelled.

Another hollow promise.

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