Cleary comment to set ‘thuggish’ NRL on edge
Rugby Australia boss Hamish McLennan has doubled down on his criticism of the NRL’s reaction to Joseph Suaalii’s defection.
And he’s revealed at least one more high-profile rugby league star has indicated a desire to jump codes, a comment that is sure to set nerves on edge across the road at their rival Moore Park headquarters.
Suaalii’s decision to ditch the Steeden and pick up the Gilbert in 2024 has sent shockwaves through the NRL and been met with mixed responses.
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ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys shot down the rival code and suggested the Roosters star would earn more money for doing less, and those sentiments were echoed by cheeky Chooks hooker Brandon Smith.
On Monday night Phil Gould suggested Suaalii may as well leave the 13-a-side game now, despite having a year and a half to run on his NRL contract.
Speaking to 9News on Tuesday, McLennan responded to the furore, and in particular the V’landys suggestion that rugby is paying too much for an outside back.
“I think that’s a cheap shot … he’s an athlete that’s worth it,” McLennan said.
“We could afford to take him now, and we would be delighted to take him earlier if league didn’t want him.
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“The reaction has been quite thuggish in terms of how they’ve treated him, what they’ve said about him and how they have treated him and his manager.
“I think we’re a bit more player-centric in rugby union and a bit more pro-player. I wouldn’t be talking to one of my key guys like that.”
McLennan then threw a grenade at the NRL with one sly comment.
Cleary refuses to rule out rugby switch
“As of yesterday there is one unnamed person out of league who have put their hand up to come across,” he said with a grin, but refused to reveal an identity.
Whether that “unnamed” player is Penrith co-captain Nathan Cleary is unknown, but the superstar halfback has floated a potential switch.
Also speaking to 9News on Tuesday, Cleary was asked whether he would ever entertain signing with Rugby Australia.
“I have a great admiration and respect for union players, particularly growing up in New Zealand, it’s so big over there,” he said.
“At the moment I’m pretty happy with where I’m at. Somewhere down the track maybe (I’d consider switching).”
Cleary, 25, is contracted to the Panthers until the end of the 2027 season.
The 2027 Rugby World Cup will be hosted by Australia.
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