Big plays are what most people get excited about, but it was the basics that had coach Trent Robinson brimming with pride as Joseph Suaalii made a solid return to the big stage in the Roosters’ win over the Warriors.
There were no audacious flick passes or forceful fends, but those will come as he finds his feet in the NRL.
Instead, the 18-year-old carried the ball 13 times for 116 metres on a day where yards were hard to come by.
He looked good in the air, didn’t drop the ball and followed the KISS principle to a tee by keeping it simple, Suaalii.
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“I just tried to keep it simple with yardage carries,” he told News Corp.
“Robbo said to me at the start of the week that he wanted me to keep my game simple so I just went with that. I just wanted to get quick play the balls for the team and nail my little effort areas for the team.”
That’s exactly what he did, only caught out once in defence when he should’ve jammed in for the Warriors’ first try. But that aside, it was exactly what his coach wanted to see.
“I thought he was great,” Robinson said.
“I love the way he started. It was such a good game.
“He moved well with Joey Manu on the end of the line, he dealt with last plays well and he carried well out of the backfield.
“If that’s home base then it’s a really good start, and then all the other stuff can come off the back of that. You’ve got to build that early, and I think that was a really good game from Suaalii to get that started.”
That combination with Manu is going to be something to watch out for this season. The star centre has been one of the best players of the first six rounds, and he’s going to create a stack of opportunities for the wunderkind on the wing.
“We kind of bonded once I came and he took me under his wing,” Suaalii said.
“From there, the friendship has grown and I see him as an older brother. I learn off him every day. Joey Manu is a special guy and he’s someone I learn from every day we’re together.
“Joey is the best centre in the game so to be able to play next to him gives you that confidence to go out there and play. Joey Manu is Joey Manu so he’s going to be running around the field and doing crazy things so it’s special to play with him.”
The fact he’s back on the field is a huge relief for a young man whose career was halted by a serious foot injury last season after just five games.
He’s eased his way back into rugby league via NSW Cup, but Suaalii says the break from footy was a blessing in disguise because it helped him get away from the spotlight to focus on the other important parts of his life.
“Getting an injury isn’t the best thing, but a lot of good things came out of it,” he said, revealing he’s planning for the future by doing a business administration and global studies course.
“I was able to finish school and spend heaps of time with my friends and family, so I took that as a positive. Just being able to finish my HSC was big for me. Robbo gave me a lot of time away from footy to do that and I think that was important.
“The foot is feeling fine. I did a lot of recovery that has helped the injury so it’s feeling good now.”
Everyone in rugby league is excited to see what Suaalii does in the future, but for him and his teammates, the past week has been a great opportunity to respect the past as the club celebrated the 20-year anniversary of the grand final win over the Warriors.
“It’s pretty cool to see the likes of Brad Fittler, Anthony Minichiello and Ricky Stuart come in,” Suaalii said of the game that was played before he was born.
“To hear their stories and what they went through to win that grand final is special, so to get to wear those collars with the collar on the jersey was a great feeling.”