Cash-strapped Rugby Australia is using the lure of Olympic and World Cup glory to tempt teenage sensation Joseph Suaalii into a life-changing cross-code switch.
Conceding Australian rugby can't compete financially with wealthy NRL clubs, RA chief Rob Clarke hopes the global appeal of the 15-man game will be enough to prize Suaalii from South Sydney's ranks.
Committed to the Rabbitohs until the end of next season, Suaalii is weighing up a reported $1.7 million three-year contract extension as RA and Wallabies coach Dave Rennie circle.
Clarke has denied RA has tabled a million-dollar-a-year offer to the 16-year-old sporting super talent, who has also excelled at AFL and basketball as well as both rugby codes.
But is making no secret of Rugby Australia's desire to nab Suaalii and land a major blow for his ailing code.
"Rugby has a lot to offer young talent in this country, with an exciting future for Super Rugby and, in a post-COVID-19 world, the international opportunities only our game can offer," Clarke said on Wednesday night.
"The Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games, the touring British & Irish Lions and the Rugby World Cup are four premier events in the global calendar and it's only our sport that provides athletes the opportunity to represent Australia and compete against the best in the world on a regular basis.
"The continued speculation about the financial offer from certain sections of the media is a tired and timeless tactic of attempting to pressure a young man into one choice and (question) how dare anyone have the temerity to choose to play rugby over another option."
It's been reported RA is ready to splash out $3 million for Suaalii's services, just a couple of months after the governing body was forced to lay off more than 40 per cent of its staff due to the crippling coronavirus crisis.
Clarke said a such figure was wide of the mark.
"To be clear, whilst rugby cannot compete financially with our friends in the 13-man game here in Australia, many professional athletes choose to become part of our game because of the many other positive attributes and global opportunities it provides. It's not all about money," he said.
"We congratulate Joseph on his journey so far in rugby and we will continue to put our best foot forward, like we do with all our young talent, in the expansive opportunities that rugby can offer.
"In this instance, Joseph may decide to pursue opportunities elsewhere and, should he choose to do so, we would wish him every bit of luck in the future.
"Rugby will stand up and fight to be part of this conversation, though, and conversations with other prospects into the future.
"Rugby has the best workplace conditions in the professional game ... Rugby Australia develops far more than just athletes but real people who embark on a pathway that does not cease when they are no longer taking the field.
"You are a part of the rugby family for life."
Australian Associated Press