After SBW and Cronk deals, latest ‘pea and thimble trick’ shows Politis is still two steps ahead of the opposition

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from following rugby league for many years it’s to never underestimate Roosters’ supremo Nick Politis.

Despite being educated in Queensland, “Uncle Nick” has proven time and time again that he’s at least two steps ahead of the opposition, and if anyone knows when to hold them and when to fold them, it’s the Roosters’ Chairman.

This is the man who lured Sonny Bill Williams to the club in 2013 and won a premiership the same year, and then did the seemingly impossible by signing 34-year-old Melbourne 300+ game stalwart and halfback Cooper Cronk in 2018 to steer the Roosters to back-to-back titles.

Politis has been so good for so long at knowing both when to sign players and when to let them go that his rivals and critics always suspect foul play rather than good judgement, and foolishly dismiss his continued success to the “salary cap sombrero” urban myth.

Roosters chairman Nick Politis (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

His latest entertaining pea and thimble trick involves young guns Joseph Suaalii and Mark Nawaqanitawase.

After signing Suaalii from under the noses of both Rugby Australia (RA) and bitter rivals South Sydney towards the end of 2020, Politis then stood back laughing together with league supremo Peter V’landys and watched RA’s Hamish McLennan empty the piggy bank to sign young Joseph for $1.6m per year for three years commencing in 2025.

Surely that’s more money than any league or rugby player has earned in the history of either code in Australia? This was despite the fact that Suaalii was yet to celebrate his 20th birthday, had played just 34 NRL games, and had never played a senior game of rugby in his life. Amazing stuff, and it’s hardly surprising that McLennan has since been punted by RA.

Suaalii is a good young player, a powerful athlete, runs the ball hard, has excellent aerial skills, never backs down and has scored 24 tries for the Roosters in his 45 games in the top grade. He has been an important part of their team over the last two years, but in reality, is no better than a dozen or so youngsters currently plying their trade in the NRL.

He’ll certainly be missed by the Roosters, and with long-serving winger Daniel Tupou also likely to leave the club at the same time as Suaalii, Uncle Nick needed a suitable replacement to join English star Dominic Young on the Roosters flanks in 2025.

Enter Mark Nawaqanitawase, or “Marky Mark” for those suffering from hippopotomstroses-quippedaliophobian (the phobia or fear of long words).

Here’s a player who’s far closer to the finished article than Suaalii and a comparative bargain to boot. At 192cm tall and tipping the scales around 100kg, Nawaqanitawase has all the physical attributes required to make it in the NRL. He’s a powerful ball runner, has good pace and great aerial skills, and has already proven himself at the top level in rugby.

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

He’s scored 22 tries in 45 appearances for the Waratahs over the last four years and already has 11 Test caps. Who knows, playing in a strong team for a change at the Roosters could just be the icing on the cake for Marky Mark, and maybe he could be the next dual international, if not for Australia, then perhaps for either Italy or Fiji.

Nawaqanitawase’s signing shows that Uncle Nick hasn’t lost his touch, and he could be a great addition to the Roosters, but as we know, every silver lining comes with a cloud, and I suspect that more than one NRL commentator will struggle to come to grips with his seven syllable surname.

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