NRL star Joseph Suaalii to switch codes for three-year contract with Rugby Australia

<span>Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP</span>
Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Joseph Suaalii will depart the Sydney Roosters, and the NRL, at the end of his current contract for a three-year deal with Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Waratahs.

The code switch will allow Suaalii to play for the Wallabies against the British and Irish Lions in 2025, with a World Cup ahead in 2027.

Suaalii’s move will be rugby’s biggest coup out of the NRL in two decades, after Mat Rogers, Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuqiri all crossed codes in the early 2000s.

The Roosters confirmed the departure in a statement, with coach Trent Robinson saying Suaalii had been “transparent with the club and we respect his decision”.

“He has made his commitment to the Roosters club for the next year and a half crystal clear, and we’re excited about the path we’re on,” he said.

Related: Wallabies coach Eddie Jones cagey on reported bid to lure NRL star Joseph Suaalii

Suaalii said the Roosters had been “great to me and my family since I got here and the club is always going to be a big part of me”.

“There’s still a long way to go in my journey with the Roosters and my sole focus is on working hard every day to keep improving and performing my role for the team,” he said.

Earlier on Saturday, the NRL chief executive, Andrew Abdo, said the league would not throw money at players such as Suaalii to stop them moving to rugby union.

The league experimented with the idea of a war chest to stop players from leaving the code in 2014, with the plan first floated by then Australian Rugby League Commission chief executive David Smith.

The financial package was never used and Abdo said there was no need to reintroduce the scheme to keep Suaalii.

“The beauty is, we don’t have to,” Abdo told ABC Radio.

“We have increased funding to clubs so we have viable clubs. And the commission have focused on making sure the salary in our new offer is a significant increase.

“The salary cap level that it is at the moment, and the growth for men and women, we are going to be attracting athletes of the future. That is exciting.”

Abdo stressed he had no concerns about a talent drain to rugby, after months of threats by new Wallabies coach Eddie Jones to lure the 13-man game’s best players.

“Good luck to any player who wants to go and play another code, that’s great for them,” Abdo said.