The Australian World Cup defense has taken two major blows, with Joseph Suaalii joining Payne Haas when he withdrew from the Kangaroos roster.
Roosters flyer Suaalii dropped the bombshell on Wednesday that he will play for Samoa, just hours after Haas pulled out of the tournament to focus on the Broncos preseason.
Haas was a certainty of being selected in coach Mal Meninga’s 24-man roster who depart for England next month, while Suaalii was seen as a strong opportunity.
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Meninga downplayed the importance of the latest stars in not making themselves available to Australia and praised both players for making the decision before the Kangaroos roster was finalized.
“I fully understand their reasons and wish them all the best. I am happy and supportive that their decision was made ahead of the team selection,” Meninga told foxsports.com.au.
Suaalii, 19, revealed he was concerned about 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 am humbled by the respect Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has shown to me and my family.
“I personally called him on Tuesday to inform him of my decision. I can’t thank him enough for thinking of 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 look forward to honoring them and my parents by donning the Samoan jersey.
“One day I hope to play for Australia. I really believe that Samoa can do great things in this World Cup and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
Haas has committed to the Broncos amid his messy contract story, confirming he will miss the World Cup to focus on the 2023 NRL season.
Haas won his fourth consecutive Paul Morgan Medal on Tuesday evening, which is awarded to Brisbane’s best player each season.
The superstar prop has been considered a lock for Mal Meninga’s Kangaroos squad who will fly to England next month to hold onto the World Cup.
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Haas dismissed the chatter he was considering playing for Samoa, saying it was a tough decision to retire, 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’m an Aussie first,” Haas said.
“I was tossing and turning it for a few weeks.
“I thought this time, especially with my body, it wasn’t going well this year and with all the things going on with my family (his mother’s incarceration), I felt like I should be home.
“As an older sibling, I feel like I have to be there for my little brothers and guide them a bit.
“I thought that was more important than going to England to play in the World Cup.
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“I felt like I needed to be here for my family and take care of myself.”
The footage could open the door for Matt Lodge and Selwyn Cobbo to break into the Kangaroos team.
Samoa is a real tournament win with Penrith stars Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton, Izack Tago, Jarome Luai and Taylan May to play alongside Suaalii.
Cowboys and Maroons aviator Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Tigers star David Nofoaluma will struggle to make it to the base.
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