Joseph Suaalii the type of kid Australian rugby must retain, Dave Rennie says

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie admits the battle has been all but lost to keep teenage prodigy Joseph Suaalii in Australian rugby, and says the code must do a better job of retaining a greater share of the country's best young talent moving forward.

Suaalii has reportedly agreed to terms on a three-year extension with NRL club South Sydney, a deal that will net the multi-code talent a tidy $1.7 million when he signs on the dotted line next month.

Currently enrolled at Sydney's The King's School, where he has been a part of the First XV for the last two years having originally sought special dispensation as a 14-year-old to play in the GPS competition, Suaalli has already proven his rugby pedigree with selection in last year's Australia Under 18s team.

And he has long been on Rugby Australia's radar with former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika and fallen superstar Israel Folau both meeting the schoolboy over the past couple of years, before Rennie himself tried to sell the 16-year-old on a future in the 15-man code.

"I met him [Suaalii] when I was here in January, impressive athlete and a very mature kid for 16," Rennie told reporters on Monday. "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."

Just how rugby's pathways treat Suaalii once he does in fact sign with the Rabbitohs will be an interesting case in point. Certainly if he repeats his play of the last couple of years, he would be a likely starter in any NSW and Australia representative teams that might be selected amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

But then there is the argument that Suaalii could also be taking up a position of another promising rugby player, whose best intentions might be to stick with the code in both the immediate and longer terms.

Rennie's sentiments seem to suggest that it would be unwise to deny Suaalii representative jerseys in rugby over the next two years, or certainly that whatever amicable relationship the code has built with him so far should be properly maintained.

"We're going to miss out on some of these kids coming out of school but I think it's important that we keep in contact with them and keep that relationship going, so that when they're making the next decision around a contract our game is still an option for them."

Rugby Australia had been doing a better job of retaining some of its brightest young talent with the help of a Fighting Fund, which has paved the wave for retention of promising Super Rugby rookies Harry Wilson, Will Harrison and Mark Nawaqanitawase.

But there has already been speculation that the code could struggle to hold onto what is a promising bunch of youngsters - who formed the crux of the Australia squad that were runners-up at the Junior World Championship - amid its current financial challenges.

As for the next crop of emerging talent, including those that may yet fill the same junior representative teams as Suaalii, Rennie again stressed the importance of good relationships.

"There's genuine challenges in Australia for the good athletes coming out of school," he said. "If you look in New Zealand, generally the best kids play rugby; league's got a bit of a presence through the Warriors and you've got the odd agent trying to steal kids out of school from a league perspective in Aussie; but most of the best athletes play rugby.

"Whereas - what is it - 16 league clubs and 18 AFL clubs [in Australia]? They're big sports and there's a lot of competition for the athletes.

"So I think that it's a lot of things that we need to do well; we need to identify kids early [and] create relationships with those kids so that when they have got to make decisions, maybe we've already got a foot in the door.

"Money comes into it obviously and some of the money that the league clubs and AFL clubs can throw at them might put them out of reach. I just think connection and communication is a massive part of it."

Rennie also stressed to need to rebuild rugby's brand in Australia - which has taken a hit in recent years - and that the code had to keep kids playing the game even though they might not be in the selection pathway at junior levels.

"Our brand is important, so everyone pulling together for a game that people want to be part of," he said.

"I guess like all over the world, there's a massive fall-off of school leavers in rugby union; so trying to keep kids in the game and [the message that] you don't necessarily have to come out of big schools to be a Wallaby.

"Just making sure that our club system is really strong and that we're still identifying and developing guys to come through later."