Schoolboy rugby sensation Joseph Suaalii is set to backflip on a three-year deal with South Sydney after a last-ditch contract approach from Rugby Australia, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Suaalii had reportedly agreed to terms with Souths and a future in the NRL via an extended three-year deal worth AU$1.7 million, but the contract could not be registered until Suaalii turned 17 on August 1, and Rugby Australia has seemingly thrown one last offer at Suaalii in a bid to keep him playing the game that has seen him compared to code-hopper and former Wallabies star Israel Folau.
According to the Telegraph, who cited RA sources, Suaalii was instead poised to sign a three-year deal worth AU$1 million a season.
But a RA spokesperson told ESPN that a deal had not been done and that the reported million-dollar-a-season figure was "off the mark".
RA interim boss Rob Clarke issued a statement later on Tuesday night, hitting out at sections of the media for speculating around the value of any deal it may have presented.
"Joseph Suaalii is an upstanding young man and a talented Rugby player, who has proven himself to be an exciting Rugby prospect for the future. We have made it no secret that we would like to keep Joseph within the Rugby pathway.
"At this stage there has been no agreement between Joseph, his family or his representation. Rugby Australia continues to have an open and exciting conversation about his potential future in our game.
"Financial offers being speculated in the media presently are totally fanciful, and is being propagated by the usual suspects whose sole interest it is to inflate and misrepresent contract values."
Suaalii is currently enrolled at The King's School where he has been a part of the First XV for the past two seasons after originally being granted a special exemption to play in the competition as a 14-year-old. He was also a part of the successful Australia Under 18s side that defeated New Zealand last year.
But he has also been playing in the Rabbitohs junior representative teams and training with the first-grade squad, a move that seemed to have sealed the deal for the club to keep him at Redfern long term.
Rugby Australia's reported contract offer is at odds with its tenuous financial position and the fact that it has no broadcast deal -- a major source of the game's revenue -- beyond this season.
The governing body also recently only negotiated revised pay cuts for its professional players through to the end of the current Super Rugby AU competition, but Suaalii's signature would also be a significant coup for the game as it seeks to pull itself up from a complete collapse in what has been a terrible year for the 15-man code.
Incoming Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said only last month the game had to do better at retaining its best young talent and confirmed he had spoken with Suaalii when he visited Australia before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I met him [Suaalii] when I was here in January, impressive athlete and a very mature kid for 16," Rennie replied when the question was put to him by ESPN. "As you get with guys like Joseph, they command a lot of attention and clearly Souths are very interested in him and have thrown some serious money in front him.
"So he's just an example of the type of kids that we want to keep in our game, but it's a competitive market and it's not easy."
A chance to represent Australia in sevens at the postponed Tokyo Olympics may have also proved a key carrot if Suaalii does indeed reject the Rabbitohs' offer.