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How did South Sydney let Joseph Suaalii slip through their fingers?

They wooed him and his mum at Russell Crowe’s farm, asked the NRL to bend the rules so he could play next season even though he’s only 17, and also played dirty pool by throwing out bogus figures about what Rugby Australia was offering him.

Souths still didn’t get their man. If you’re a Rabbitohs member you have every right to ask … how?

South Sydney boss Blake Solly appears to consider himself a future NRL CEO.

South Sydney boss Blake Solly appears to consider himself a future NRL CEO.Credit:Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Until recently, Suaalii’s name featured prominently on a whiteboard at Redfern Oval.

The whiteboard belonged to former football boss Shane Richardson and provided a preview of South Sydney’s future squad goals for years to come.

Because of the very nature of the salary cap, the smart clubs work years in advance when securing their talent long-term.

Nobody in rugby league should ever write anything in permanent marker but Suaalii has long been considered Souths’ fullback from 2022 onwards.

South Sydney had Joseph Suaalii front of mind even when they signed Latrell Mitchell.

South Sydney had Joseph Suaalii front of mind even when they signed Latrell Mitchell.Credit:Getty Images

Even the surprise signing of Latrell Mitchell didn’t shake the Rabbitohs from that belief.

It’s one of the reasons Mitchell was only signed on a one-year deal with the option for a second in the club’s favour.

Why Suaalii went cold on Souths isn’t entirely clear, but it was a sure sign he wasn’t serious when he asked for a five-year deal with get-out clauses.

We’ve been told the Suaalii family felt it was being played by colourful art dealer and Souths tragic Steve Nasteski, who has been shopping the poor kid all over the place in recent months.

Solly thought he had the inside run to Suaalii because he’s close to the cashed-up Nasteski, but things turned dramatically earlier this month when the teenager’s family reached out to the Roosters.

The Roosters denied the interest when it was first revealed in the Herald and remain cagey about the issue.

They’re awaiting a release from Souths before signing Suaalii on a development contract. After that, they’ll sign him on an NRL contract but the first year will be at minimum wage of a likely three-year deal because it’s no secret the club is feeling salary cap pressure.

The Roosters remain hopeful, though, they won’t have to shed players, or pay players like Angus Crichton less, to secure Suaalii.

Both the Wests Tigers and the Broncos have also been sniffing around the teenager, but he wants to join the Roosters because he’s a fan of the likes of James Tedesco and Luke Keary, and respects coach Trent Robinson.

Trent Robinson after winning last year's grand final against the Raiders.

Trent Robinson after winning last year’s grand final against the Raiders.Credit:Peter Rae

It’s also no surprise that the Suaalii family, which does charity work in the Penrith region, became interested in the Roosters at the same time The Australian‘s investigation into the alleged shenanigans of former captain Sam Burgess came to light.

Which brings us back to Solly, who considers himself a future boss of the NRL if his constant sniping in chief executive meetings about how the game has been run is any indication.

We wait with interest to see what the NRL integrity unit uncovers in relation to Phoebe Burgess’ concerning allegations about her former husband. Who knew what at Souths?

It was rather worrying how Solly, who has since denied any knowledge of the allegations, ran for cover after The Australian’s yarn dropped.

A strong chief executive would’ve fronted a media conference and answered some hard questions. I mean, all this apparently happened on his watch.

Instead, Solly jammed out a statement and then provided some prosaic remarks to News Corp.

The culture of silence at Souths around Burgess is indicative of Solly’s media strategy.

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He’s been pushing at CEO meetings for less access to players.

Earlier this year, the club tried to cancel at the last minute a Herald interview with Cody Walker for Indigenous Round. To Walker’s credit, he stuck solid and told a beautiful story about how his sons helped him reconnect with his culture.

Solly has also floated the idea of denying broadcasters Nine (which publishes this masthead) and Fox Sports access to the dressing-room after matches so they can’t show the singing of the team song.

That “content”, Solly has argued to the NRL, belongs to the club.

It actually belongs to the players. To the fans. To the game. And never mind the hundreds of millions of dollars the broadcasters tip into the game.

So perhaps Solly and others at Souths should concentrate on the things that really matter — like securing a player like Joseph Suaalii.

Let it go, Queensland, Keary’s a true blue

Talk about the pot calling the kettle maroon.

The Queensland Rugby League is — as they say in rugby league — blowing up deluxe about Luke Keary playing for NSW in this year’s Origin series, citing that he was born in Ipswich, grew up idolising Allan Langer and met with the NRL eight years ago about wanting to play for the Maroons.

Never mind that Keary is eligible for the Blues under the six-question criteria agreed to by both the QRL and NSWRL in 2013.

Never mind that Keary himself changed his mind and put this issue to bed last year when he said: “I’ve spoken to the right people, they know I’m NSW and if I ever do play State of Origin it will be for NSW”.

A torrid run with injury has prevented Luke Keary playing State of Origin until now.

A torrid run with injury has prevented Luke Keary playing State of Origin until now.Credit:NRL Photos

If Keary wants to play for NSW, why can’t he? It was enough for the Kempsey-born, Macksville-raised Greg Inglis, who wanted to play for Queensland.

In those early years when Inglis was playing for the Maroons, some NSWRL officials considered taking the matter to court to ensure he played for his state of birth.

But they let it go. Now you, too, must let it go, QRL. Let. It. Go.

SMITH LAUNCHES FRESH SPECULATION

Storm captain Cameron Smith sent social media into meltdown on Monday when he announced that his autobiography would be released on November 16.

Cameron Smith will launch his book at Suncorp Stadium next month.

Cameron Smith will launch his book at Suncorp Stadium next month.Credit:Getty Images

People misread it as a sure sign that he’s retiring.

That may be the case — and the smart money is on a retirement after the Storm’s grand final win over Penrith — but publisher Allen and Unwin remains in the dark about his future, just like the Storm.

There’s a misconception that writing a book means a player is retiring.

Former Sharks captain Paul Gallen finished his book three years before he played his last game with ghostwriter David Riccio adding a chapter with each passing season.

Smith will launch his book at Suncorp Stadium on November 16. Perhaps he’ll announce his future plans then.

MIDNIGHT MARATHON

Twelve young Indigenous athletes were supposed to be running in the New York Marathon this weekend.

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Instead, because of COVID-19, this year’s squad from Robert de Castella’s Indigenous Marathon Foundation will run under a full moon at midnight on Saturday in Alice Springs.

De Castella established the foundation a decade ago after filmmaker Matt Long came up with the idea of plucking four Indigenous athletes from isolated communities to see if they had the natural talent to rival the Africans’ dominance of long-distance running.

Since then, every one of the 96 athletes handpicked by De Castella and his staff have completed marathons in New York, Boston, Tokyo, London, Paris and Berlin.

One of this year’s runners from Victoria went to Darwin to isolate for two weeks before coming to Alice Springs to run her marathon this weekend.

You can follow the progress of this year’s squad at www.imf.org.au.

THE QUOTE
“He’s the best young player since Ricky Ponting. He’s our next superstar.” — Former Test captain Greg Chappell placing no pressure whatsoever on West Australian all-rounder Cameron Green.

Richmond's Dustin Martin turned in another match-winning performance in Saturday night's grand final win over Geelong.

Richmond’s Dustin Martin turned in another match-winning performance in Saturday night’s grand final win over Geelong.Credit:Getty Images

THUMBS UP
Three-time Norm Smith Medallist Dustin Martin sounds like a ripper. “He actually tucks the Norm Smith away so he doesn’t have it out showing, because he’s a pure team man,” Richmond teammate Jack Riewoldt revealed after the grand final win against Geelong.

THUMBS DOWN
Wayne Bennett spreads the gospel of rugby league in ways few people see, without wanting credit, but his decision to knock back a behind-the-scenes State of Origin documentary is narrow-minded.

It’s a big weekend for … the Chris Waller-trained Funstar after drawing the car park for the $7.5 million Golden Eagle (1500m) at a soggy Rosehill Gardens on Saturday afternoon. Good luck, Funstar.

It’s an even bigger weekend for … the Wallabies, who will look to bounce back from their Eden Park mauling two weeks ago when they meet the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night. Good luck, Wallabies.

Twitter: @awebster1975

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