Suaali’i, Tedesco or Manu? Roosters are spoiled for choice, but solving the long-term rear riddle will ruffle feathers
When you try to please everyone, you often please no one. The Roosters have three of the best full-backs in rugby league and it looks like they will have to knock out at least one by the end of next year.
James Tedesco, Joey Manu and Joseph Suaalii are out of contract at the end of 2024 after the latter opted for the final year of his contract.
They’re all at their best when playing at the back, but as the old phrase goes wrong, three in the No.1 shirt won’t go.
The Roosters can’t be wrong whichever way they go, as all three are world-class players who will secure the club a top-notch full-back for the foreseeable future.
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Their exhaust valve is the five-eights position, where Manu has also excelled in limited opportunities. Veteran three-time Premiership-winning pivot Luke Keary is also a free agent at the end of next year and at 31 with diminishing impact over the past two seasons as a concussion and torn ACL took their toll , he is unlikely to be re-signed for 2025.
But it’s still not his best position. He won the Golden Boot for his outstanding performances at the World Cup last year while playing at full-back for the Kiwis.
Even if they can satisfy Manu by making him half-partner Sam Walker, it still leaves an impossible choice.
Have they put all their eggs in the basket for Tedesco, the current NSW and Australian captain who is no spring chicken at 30 but still has several seasons left in him as an elite performer.
Or are they investing in Suaalii, who is still just 19 but has generated the most hype about his potential as a difference-maker at outside backs since Greg Inglis, Jarryd Hayne and Israel Folau burst onto the scene on the scene more than 15 years ago.
And of course there’s the added complication of Rugby Australia loaning with checkbooks. Are they still a thing? Loans with lots of dollars in their account to make an electronic funds transfer. Doesn’t quite have the same ominous sound.
Suaali’i’s situation is similar to what unfolded last year at Newcastle when the club were keen to lock him in a long-term extension to stamp out white noise on the All Blacks.
Roosters executives are unlikely to agree to another deal with two years of player options like the four-season carrot they put on hold to get him away from the Rabbitohs.
Suaali’i gave conspiracy theorists plenty of ammunition when he failed to switch to Tedesco to go it alone as his skipper had the line wide open against the Warriors.
Tedesco was asked about the contract imbroglio during the Roosters press briefing on Monday and, as you’d expect, he said he “100%” thinks he and his protege can coexist in the long term. the same team.
“I haven’t really read much about it, to be honest. It’s in two years,” he said. “Of course I want to finish my career here, but there’s no rush.
“I don’t think anyone wants to leave the club. Especially me, I want to stay as long as possible. Having guys like Joseph Suaali’i and Joseph Manu outside of me, not in our backbone, is quite dangerous for our crew.
“And if we can all come together, play for many years to come, I think that’s really good for the club.”
His agent contacted the Habs about an extension but there was little progress in the months that followed.
“If we wait another year, it will be the same conversations then,” he said, before adding that the media was more focused on the issue than he was.
No shortage of suitors
There would also be an avalanche of NRL clubs salivating at the prospect of signing either full-back for 2025 and beyond.
The Wests Tigers will be looking to make a splash in what is expected to be Benji Marshall’s first year as head coach – he threw the winning basket on the day Tedesco made his unfortunate debut 11 years ago, suffering from a torn ACL during the victory. on Cronulla.
The lure of reuniting with former Roosters assistant coach Craig Fitzgibbbon at the Sharks could also be a lure for Tedesco and Suaalii.
St George Illawarra don’t have a long-term option at the back due to the delayed development of Tyrell Sloan and Cody Ramsey’s end-of-season bowel problem and are expected to have plenty of salary cap space as a group of overpriced veterans are moved.
Even Tedesco’s status as the Kangaroos’ outgoing captain doesn’t guarantee he’ll survive the Roosters’ chop.
Wally Lewis had been the Queensland and Australia skipper for several seasons, but in late 1990 the Broncos felt he was surplus to requirements as they believed Kevin Walters would be a better option alongside his pal from Ipswich Allan Langer.
It was major news for months in the Sunshine State, but Wayne Bennett’s controversial decision proved a winner, with the Broncos winning five premierships over the next nine years with Langer and Walters front and center.
A few years ago, Souths prioritized Lachlan Ilias as the half-back of the future and allowed his captain, club legend and longtime local junior Adam Reynolds to join Brisbane.
Ilias has grown into the role and the Rabbitohs are one of the favorites to win the premiership this year despite having a relatively inexperienced playmaker running the show.
Choosing the young gun over the veteran doesn’t always work. Canberra bid farewell to Ricky Stuart at the end of 1998, when the three-time Premiership-winning playmaker was in the twilight of his career.
The Raiders had the “Super Macs” through the ranks – Mark McLinden and Andrew McFadden – who they believed would be their long-term halves to take over from Stuart and Laurie Daley.
Although both players had solid careers in the NRL, neither lived up to the hype of their rookie seasons.
For the Roosters, it probably hinders rather than helps their decision that Suaali’i looks like a top-notch prospect who will pay handsome dividends as he enters the prime of his career.
But ensuring he delivers while wearing the Habs will be very expensive.
Tedesco has often been compared to Billy Slater as the two best full-backs of the past decade.
Slater played until the age of 35 and, after returning from two major shoulder surgeries, was still the benchmark for full-backs in his final two seasons while winning a premiership , representing Queensland and Australia.
CBA delay throws another wrench in the works
For all their success in the inexact science of salary cap management, Manu, Tedesco and Suaalii will each command more than $1 million per season on the open market for 2025, especially when taking into account annual increases. which are expected to go into effect, with each club’s player payments then expected to be around $13 million.
The final figure won’t be known until the drawn-out CBA negotiations are finally resolved, but all clubs will have plenty of money to spend with big-name free agent salaries set to skyrocket even higher.
Another unknown facing the Roosters is when their renowned trio will be able to negotiate with rival clubs. The previous ABC contained a November 1 deadline which led to the ridiculous situation of players signing with their next club over 15 months before they could appear on an NRL pitch with that team.
The NRL want to bring back the mid-year anti-tampering deadline of June 30 and add designated transfer windows to the calendar, but have received a significant pushback from the RLPA.
Whichever direction the Roosters ultimately take, there could be some awkward scenes next year when they play out the season with a player knowing the club have put long-term trust in their team-mate instead.
The least likely option among the many scenarios at play is that the Roosters will be able to convince Suaalii to stay long-term by spending 2025 and perhaps another year at center before Tedesco makes his way.
It’s an embarrassment of riches for the Roosters and damn it, if any of their supporters expect to receive sympathy from rival fans, they will be very disappointed.