Suaali’i, Tedesco or Manu? Roosters are spoiled for choice, but solving a long-term fullback puzzle will ruffle the feathers

When you try to please everyone, you often don’t please anyone. The Roosters have three of the best full-backs in rugby league and look set to lose at least one of them 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 into the last year of his contract.

They’re all at their best when playing at full-back, but with the old set not fitting, three in the No 1 shirt won’t fit.

The Roosters certainly can’t go wrong as all three are world-class players who will ensure the club a top-class full-back for the foreseeable future.

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Her dodge valve is the five-eighth position, where Manu has also excelled on limited occasions. Veteran three-time Premiership winner Luke Keary is also a free agent late next year and at 31 with the effects waning in the last couple of seasons as a concussion and a cruciate ligament rupture have taken their toll, he is unlikely to be re-signed will be 2025.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 15: Joseph Manu of the Roosters is tackled during the Round 10 NRL game between the Sydney Roosters and the Parramatta Eels at Suncorp Stadium on May 15, 2022 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Joseph Manuel. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

But that’s not his best position yet. He won the Golden Boot for his outstanding performances at last year’s World Cup while playing at full-back for the Kiwis.

Even if they can satisfy Manu by making him Sam Walker’s half partner, that still leaves an impossible choice.

Put all your eggs in the basket of Tedesco, the current NSW and Australia captain who is no spring chicken at 30 but has several seasons left as an elite performer.

Or invest in Suaalii, who is only 19 but has garnered the most hype about his full-back potential since Greg Inglis, Jarryd Hayne and Israel Folau arrived on the scene over 15 years ago.

And of course there’s the added complication of Rugby Australia, ready when checkbooks are out. Are they still a thing? Ready with plenty of dollars in their account to make an electronic money transfer. Doesn’t quite have the same foreboding ring.

The situation at Suaali’i is similar to that at Newcastle last year when the club were desperate to sign him on a long-term extension to eradicate the white noise surrounding the All Blacks.

Roosters executives are unlikely to agree to another deal with two years of player options like the four-season carrot they dangled to get him away from the Rabbitohs.

Suaali’i gave conspiracy theorists plenty of ammunition when he failed to get through to Tedesco to go it alone when his skipper had the line wide open against the Warriors.

Tedesco was asked about the contract muddle at the Roosters’ media session on Monday and, predictably, he said he “100%” believes he and his protégé could co-exist on the same side in the long term.

“To be honest, I haven’t read much about it. It’s two years away,” he said. “Of course I want to finish my career here, but there is no rush.

“I don’t think anyone wants to leave the club. Above all, I would like to stay as long as possible. Having guys like Joseph Suaali’i and Joseph Manu outside of me, not in our spine, is quite dangerous for our team.

“And if we can all get together and play for many more years, I think that’s really beneficial for the club.”

His agent contacted the Tricolors about an extension, but little progress has been made in the months since.

“If we wait another year, then it will be the same talks,” he said, before adding that the media was more focused on the issue than he was.


(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

No shortage of admirers

There would also be an avalanche of NRL clubs drooling over the prospect of signing one of the full-backs for 2025 and beyond.

The Wests Tigers will be looking to make a splash in Benji Marshall’s first year as head coach – on the day Tedesco made his ill-fated debut 11 years ago, he hit the winning field goal and tore his cruciate ligament over Cronulla in the win.

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 has no long-term option as a full-back due to the stunted development of Tyrell Sloan and Cody Ramsey’s end-of-season gut issues and should have plenty of room for the salary cap as a bunch of overpriced veterans move on.

Even Tedesco’s status as acting Kangaroos captain doesn’t guarantee he’ll survive the Roosters’ blow.

Wally Lewis skippered Queensland and Australia for several seasons, but in late 1990 the Broncos deemed him redundant because they thought Kevin Walters would be a better halftime option alongside his Ipswich sidekick Allan Langer.

That was big news in the Sunshine State for months, but Wayne Bennett’s controversial move proved a winner as the Broncos won five Premierships over the next nine years with Langer and Walters at the helm.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 15: Joseph Suaalii of the Roosters celebrates with team mate Joseph Manu after scoring during the NRL Round 10 game between the Sydney Roosters and Parramatta Eels at Suncorp Stadium on May 15, 2022 in Brisbane, Australia scored an attempt. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Joseph Suaali’i and Joseph Manu. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Souths prioritized Lachlan Ilias as their future halfback a couple of years ago, allowing their 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 for this year’s Premiership, despite having a relatively inexperienced playmaker at the helm of the show.

It doesn’t always work to choose the youngster over the veteran. Canberra said goodbye to Ricky Stuart in late 1998 when the three-time Premiership winner was at the end of his career.

The Raiders let the “Super Macs” — Mark McLinden and Andrew McFadden — who they thought would be their long-term halves through the ranks to take over the baton from Stuart and Laurie Daley.

Although both players had solid NRL careers, neither lived up to the hype of their rookie seasons.

It’s probably more of a hindrance than a help for the Roosters in making their decision that Suaali’i appears to be a blue-chip prospect that will pay handsome dividends when he reaches the prime of his career.

But ensuring he delivers while wearing the tricolors will cost dearly.

Tedesco has often been compared to Billy Slater as the top two full-backs of the past decade.

Slater played until he was 35 and, having returned from two major shoulder surgeries, was still the benchmark full-back in his last couple of seasons, while winning a Premiership and representing Queensland and Australia.

CBA delay throws another wrench into the work

For all their success in the imprecise science of salary cap management, Manu, Tedesco, and Suaalii will each be making more than $1 million per season in the open market for 2025, especially when you factor in the annual increases that are set to take effect in each player’s payments Clubs are expected to be around $13 million by then.

The final figure won’t be known until the endless CBA negotiations are finally concluded, but all clubs will have plenty of money to splash out on marquee free agent salaries, which will continue to skyrocket.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 15: Joseph Manu of the Roosters is tackled during the Round 10 NRL game between the Sydney Roosters and the Parramatta Eels at Suncorp Stadium on May 15, 2022 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Joseph Manuel. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Another unknown the Roosters face is when their marquee trio can negotiate with rival clubs. The previous CBA included a November 1 deadline, leading to the ridiculous situation of players signing with their next club more than 15 months before they could appear on an NRL field with that team.

The NRL wants to extend the June 30 mid-year anti-tampering deadline and add specific broadcast windows to the calendar, but has received significant backlash from the RLPA.

Whichever route the Roosters ultimately go, there could be awkward scenes next year if they play the season with a player who knows the club is putting their long-term faith in their team-mate instead.

The least likely option from the many scenarios at play is that the Roosters can convince Suaalii to stay long-term, spending 2025 and maybe another year at center before Tedesco makes way.

It’s an embarrassment for the Roosters and a word for the wise, if any of their supporters expect to garner sympathy from rival fans, they’ll be greatly disappointed. Suaali'i, Tedesco or Manu? Roosters are spoiled for choice, but solving a long-term fullback puzzle will ruffle the feathers

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