Even in the first year of the proposed deal, the 17-year-old was seeking almost half that amount, about $480,000, with the asking price rising significantly in each of the ensuing seasons.
The Rabbitohs could potentially have come close to meeting Suaalii’s expectations for the initial years of the deal, given several third-party sponsors, including Asics and F45, were considering partnering with the King’s School student. However, the get-out clauses and the seven-figure request were considered unacceptable for a teen yet to prove himself beyond schoolboy level.
Had the Rabbitohs caved in, they would have put Suaalii into the stratosphere of the NRL’s elite million-dollar men – alongside the likes of James Tedesco, Daly Cherry-Evans, Nathan Cleary, Jason Taumalolo, Tom Trbojevic and Ben Hunt – all before he had made even a reserve-grade appearance, let alone got on the field in first grade.
Another previously unknown twist in Suaalii’s protracted negotiations with Souths was that the outside back was already contracted to the club for 2021, but had a little-known get-out clause that could have been triggered up until August 31 of last year. However, Suaalii waited until the day after it lapsed to express a desire to leave early, escalating tensions between the parties.
Even then, the Rabbitohs were prepared to either strike a new extension arrangement or release him to rugby union or a rival NRL club. But when the Herald revealed a month later that he was keen to join the Roosters, the “Pride of the League” decided to play hardball.
Souths were not prepared to gift the most hyped teen of his generation to their arch-rivals and only relented after securing a $110,000 transfer fee. It is a sum that would not have been required had Suaalii requested his release before August 31.
In the end, the Roosters got their man, at a fraction of the price he was seeking to stay at South Sydney, on a two-year deal. The Roosters did so after granting Suaalii the get-out clauses he was seeking, in the belief he will not want to leave Bondi Junction once he has settled in under coach Trent Robinson.
Under NRL rules, Suaalii is not allowed to make his first-grade debut until he turns 18, a milestone he will reach on August 1. However, Rugby League Central has indicated an exception could be made to ensure he does not defect to rugby union.
Now it is time to justify all the hype. Footy fans will get their first glimpse of Suaalii when he runs out for feeder team North Sydney on Saturday in the curtain raiser to the tricolours’ final trial clash against Canberra in Queanbeyan.
What was shaping as a mundane lower-grade trial will now attract unprecedented interest as the rugby league world tunes in to see if the 196-centimetre, 98-kilogram back can dominate seasoned campaigners the way he did schoolboy contemporaries.
The Roosters are not expecting immediate return on their investment, preparing to introduce Suaalii to first grade only once they believe he is ready to handle the physical and mental demands.
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.