‘Selfish’ Joseph Suaalii act highlights Sydney Roosters contract showdown with James Tedesco

The moment Joseph Suaalii burst through the line and appeared to blatantly ignore skipper James Tedesco for a try on his inside has turned a spotlight onto a looming problem at the glamour club.

The 19-year-old outside back is expected to be the game’s next superstar, but with that comes an expectation that he will be able to play his preferred position of fullback.

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There’s just one problem for Suaalii and the Roosters however – that jumper is currently claimed by club captain James Tedesco.

So with that in mind, many NRL fans paid close attention as Suaalii burst through the line in the 58th minute of the Roosters’ 20-12 victory over the Warriors at Allianz Stadium.

As he approached Warriors fullback Te Maire Martin at pace, Tedesco loomed on his right side, perfectly positioned in support for what should have been a simple pass and uninterrupted run for the try line.

However Suaalii bizarrely overlooked Tedesco, opting instead to try to beat Martin himself for his own four-pointer.

“Boy what are you doing,” NRL great Greg Alexander said in commentary for Fox League.

The powerful outside back managed to burst through the Martin tackle attempt before being taken down by Edward Kosi in the left corner.

He saved his blushes by offloading back on the inside for Sam Walker to score, once again overlooking Tedesco who had remained in support.

While at any other club and even on any other day at the Roosters the play would simply be put down to inexperience on Suaalii’s part – news from earlier in the week meant many onlookers were raising their eyebrows.

On Monday Suaalii spurned interest from rival NRL clubs and the Wallabies to activate his player option at the Roosters for the 2024 season.

Suaalii will be paid a reported $700,000 for that added season, but more importantly he is now contracted at the Roosters until the exact same date at Tedesco, who will be approaching 32 when his current deal expires.

Although Tedesco is still at the peak of his powers, continuing to successfully lead the Roosters, Blues and Kangaroos – the Roosters are second to none when it comes to roster management, with many believing 2025 might be the perfect time to for the club to showcase an exciting new fullback on its star-studded team.

It’s been described as the Roosters’ Adam Reynolds moment – and it’s sparked intense intrigue in the NRL world amid some suggestions there may be tension between the two stars and their respective management agencies.

“No one manages their roster better than the Roosters,” NRL Immortal Andrew Johns told WWOS last week.

“They’ve got a big decision to make because I’d imagine the management of Joseph would’ve pretty much said, ‘If he’s staying here we’d like to see him play fullback’.

“I have no idea (how they’ll manage it) but the top clubs make the tough decisions.

“Me personally, I would keep Teddy on for a while, but we’ll see. The really top teams manage it well and they move the player a year before their use-by date, so there’s some big decisions to make on Teddy.

“I think Teddy can be at the top of his game until he’s 34-35. It might sound silly, but what will extend his career is all the injuries he had earlier in his career, he had those knee problems so he missed about two years of footy.”

Johns said Tedesco would have no shortage of suitors if he was forced out, saying the Tigers, Bulldogs and even Sharks would be bound to be interested.

However, he believes Suaalii would be a revelation as soon as he donned the No. 1 jersey.

“He’d be fine (at fullback) next week,” Johns said.

“I was talking to someone at the World Cup … (they were told) Joseph is one of the most professional players they’ve seen.

“After a game he likes to meditate on the field, so he goes down somewhere and thinks about his game.

“After a (World Cup) game in England – as usual it was pissing down rain – he went down after the game, sat on the field under the goalposts and meditated and went through his game.

“You can see he’s a real pro and he’s going to be at the top of his game for another 15 years.

“If you see the way he treats his body and the way he prepares, it reminds you of Sonny Bill (Williams), and he played at the top level for so long with the All Blacks and then the Roosters.”

The SMH’s Andrew Webster also told SEN he believed Suaalii would have the final say in the decision of whether to stay with Tedesco or move on to the youngster.

“In their haste to get Suaalii from the Rabbitohs and agreeing to those get-out clauses every year on his deal, they have put themselves on a collision course,” Webster said.

“They have to make a decision between the Australian captain or the best fullback coming through.”

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