Dual international Lote Tuqiri believes future Wallaby Joseph Suaalii has the potential to be a better rugby player than Israel Folau and every other cross-code star who has gone before him.
Suaalii is off contract after next year’s NRL season and is eligible to link up in November with the Wallabies.
“He could get to Israel Folau status,” Tuqiri told Sydney Morning Herald.
“He probably could be better. He could be better than all of us rugby league converts. Joseph Suaalii could be a force to be reckoned with.”
Tuqiri believes there would be no qualms if Sydney Roosters back Suaalii was parachuted into a Wallabies squad for next year’s European spring tour without playing a Super Rugby match.
Tuqiri made the switch to rugby after the 2002 NRL season but had the benefit of a year at the Waratahs before making his debut for Australia in 2003.
“I actually feel a bit sorry for the kid. He’s just doing the best for himself. There always will be a bit of conjecture. On the whole, if you play in a team environment, you want success and the best players. He’s not going back to rugby because he’s a dud. I think the players will get around it.”
“You’d be silly not to take him. They’ve made a big investment. He’s been playing at a high level with the Roosters. I think you try and fast-track him in. Whether he plays or not is another question. What we saw in the World Cup is not having enough experience. I think just being away with blokes will stand him in good stead going into 2025.”
When Tuqiri came across rugby two decades ago, the code was thriving and about to host a home World Cup.
He also scored a try in the 2003 World Cup final against England and now said the state of the code might be playing on Suaalii’s mind.
“If I’m him, I would have some doubts if I made the right decision,” Tuqiri said.
“He’ll have another 12 months to see where the game goes. It can only go up in Australia. He’s a young bloke who’s signed for a lot of money in a game where he can actually play. He seems very level-headed and mature for a 20-year-old kid.”
Tuqiri is still coming to terms with the Wallabies’ poor performances and disagreed with ex-coach Eddie Jones’ call to blood inexperienced players at a World Cup.
“Fiji helped me recover a little bit better. I got on their train once I knew the Wallabies were gone,” he added.
“The only way is up. We definitely have the players to do it.”