Suaalii boost for Samoa as Haas rules himself out

Published by Brad Walter, IntRL
21 Sep 2022

Sydney Roosters teen sensation Joseph Suaalii has provided a further boost for Toa Samoa’s World Cup campaign after deciding to honour his family and heritage by playing for the island nation.

Suaalii made the call to choose Samoa over Australia as Brisbane Broncos prop Payne Haas - the club's four-time player of the year - ruled himself out of the tournament for family reasons.

The 19-year-old is likely to be considered at fullback for Samoa's opening World Cup match against England at St James Park on October 15 and will join a star studded backline that includes Penrith Panthers five-eighth Jarome Luai, winger Brian To'o and centre Stephen Crichton.

Photo: Teen sensation Joseph Suaalii will play for Samoa (NRL Photos)

He phoned Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga on Tuesday to advise him of his decision.

“For family reasons, I have decided to pledge my allegiance to Samoa for the upcoming World Cup,” Suaalii told NewsCorp.

“This has been one of the most difficult decisions of my career. I have been humbled by the respect shown to me and my family by Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga.

“I personally called him on Tuesday to let him know of my decision. I can’t thank him enough for considering me but this is about more than football.

“This is about respecting my family and the sacrifices they have made for me throughout my career.

“My grandparents still live in Samoa and I am looking forward to honouring them and my parents by pulling on the Samoan jersey.

“One day, I hope to play for Australia. I truly believe Samoa can do great things at this World Cup and I can’t wait to be part of it.”

Samoa coach Matt Parish will announce his 24-man squad for the World Cup early next week and there may be more big names pledge their allegiances to the Pacific nation.

"I really admire what these guys have done because they are putting aside their own personal wealth for the best interests of their families and obviously Samoa," Parish said. 

"It is very exciting the calibre of players who want to be involved so it is certainly very good." 

There had been speculation that Haas may also commit to Samoa but the prop has revealed that he was set to play for Australia before the recent jailing of his mother. 

Photo: Payne Haas has withdrawn from the World Cup (NRL Photos)

“I spoke to Mal and I told him I wanted to represent Australia. I was born here and I am an Aussie first,” Haas told AAP. “I was tossing and turning over it for a couple of weeks.

“I just thought this time now, especially with my body, it didn’t pull up well this year and with all the stuff going on with my family, I felt like I needed to be at home.

“As the older sibling, I feel I need to be there for my little brothers and give them a bit of guidance.

“I felt that was more important than going over to England to play in the World Cup. I felt like I had to be here for my family and look after myself.”

Meanwhile, Castleford coach Lee Radford and Cronulla Sharks assistant Daniel Holdsworth have joined Parish’s staff and will oversee a star studded squad that includes Suaalii, Luai, To'o, Crichton and State of Origin props Junior Paulo and Josh Papaali'i.

Panthers assistant coach Andrew Webster was a member of the Samoa coaching staff during the mid-season Test defeat of Cook Islands but he has had to step aside after being appointed to the Warriors job next season.

Photo: Daniel Holdsworth has joined the Samoa coaching staff (NRL Photos)

“We are really happy for Andrew Webster, it is a great opportunity for him and one he thoroughly deserves,” Parish said.

“Daniel Holdsworth, who has done a great job with the Sharks, will run our attack and I’m sure he will work well with our young spine.

“We also have Lee Radford, the Castleford coach, who has won two Challenge Cups with Hull FC, so while we are building a strong presence on the field, we certainly have a strong off-field staff as well.”

Radford and Holdsworth will work alongside former Manly coach Geoff Toovey, 2017 Samoa captain Frank Pritchard and former Leeds mentor Richard Agar on Parish's coaching staff.