Australia’s World Cup defense has copped two major blows, with Joseph Suaalii joining Payne Haas in withdrawing from Kangaroos selection.
Roosters flyer Suaalii dropped the bombshell on Wednesday that he’ll be playing for Samoa, just hours after Haas pulled out of the tournament to focus on the Broncos pre-season.
Haas was a certainty to get picked in coach Mal Meninga’s 24-man squad that will head to England next month, while Suaalii was considered a strong chance.
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Meninga played down the significance of the latest stars to declare themselves unavailable for Australia and praised both players for making the decision before the Kangaroos squad was finalised.
“I fully understand their reasons and wish them all the best. I’m happy and supportive that their decision has been made prior to team selection,” Meninga told foxsports.com.au.
Suaalii, 19, revealed he agonized over the decision and said he still hopes to play for the Kangaroos one day.
“For family reasons, I have decided to pledge my allegiance to Samoa for the upcoming World Cup,” Suaalii told News Corp.
“This has been one of the most difficult decisions of my career. I have been humbled by the respect shown to me and my family by Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga.
“I personally called him on Tuesday to let him know of my decision. I can’t thank him enough for considering me but this is about more than football.
“This is about respecting my family and the sacrifices they have made for me throughout my career. My grandparents still live in Samoa and I am looking forward to honoring them and my parents by pulling on the Samoan jersey.
“One day, I hope to play for Australia. I truly believe Samoa can do great things at this World Cup and I can’t wait to be part of it.”
Haas has committed to the Broncos amid his messy contract saga, and confirmed he’ll miss the World Cup to focus on the 2023 NRL season.
Haas won his fourth consecutive Paul Morgan Medal on Tuesday night, given to Brisbane’s best player each season.
The superstar prop was considered a lock for Mal Meninga’s Kangaroos squad that will fly to England next month looking to retain the World Cup.
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Haas rejected chatter he was considering playing for Samoa and said it was a tough decision to pull out but one he made for family reasons.
“I spoke to Mal and I told him I wanted to represent Australia. I was born here and I am an Aussie first,” Haas said.
“I was tossing and turning over it for a couple of weeks.
“I just thought this time now, especially with my body, it didn’t pull up well this year and with all the stuff going on with my family (the jailing of his mum), I felt like I needed to be at home.
“As the older sibling, I feel I need to be there for my little brothers and give them a bit of guidance.
“I felt that was more important than going over to England to play in the World Cup.
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“I felt like I had to be here for my family and look after myself.”
The withdrawals could open the door for Matt Lodge and Selwyn Cobbo to break into the Kangaroos squad.
Samoa are a genuine chance of winning the tournament with Penrith stars Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton, Izack Tago, Jarome Luai and Taylan May to play alongside Suaalii.
Cowboys and Maroons flyer Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, and Tigers star David Nofoaluma, will struggle to make the starting side.
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