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Just days after Phil Gould urged rugby-bound back Joseph Suaalii to leave the game immediately, Trent Robinson has slammed the respected rugby league voice’s comments as “ridiculous” and urged rugby league officials to be “cool and relax”.
Gould, the former State of Origin mastermind and current Canterbury Bulldogs general manager, said the NRL couldn’t afford to have the constant reminder that one of their rising stars was leaving the game to join Rugby Australia.
“Every time he scores a try, anything he does in our game, people are going to refer to the fact that he’s going to rugby,” Gould said on Nine’s 100% Footy.
“Why do we need that? Go now. You made your decision. Go now. Go now. Go now. Don’t let the door hit you on the arse on the way out. See ya later. Gone. He’s made his decision.”
On Wednesday morning, Robinson responded to Gould and pointedly inferred that the Bulldogs GM was trying to sinisterly undermine the Roosters’ campaign.
“No, it’s a ridiculous comment,” Robinson said, after being asked about Gould’s comments and whether Suaalii should leave early.
“That was a guy that’s looking after another club and a ridiculous comment to say about Joey and what he would do.
“He can stick to his turf and we’ll stick to ours and how we want to deal with it, and it showed a fair bit of fear for me about another code.
“Lots of players sign a year out. Coaches go between rugby union and rugby league, but to come out against Joey as a 19-year-old showed a fair bit of fear about what the building is across the road for us.”
Robinson, who spent years coaching in France, the nation that will host the Rugby World Cup and home of the well-supported and cashed-up TOP 14, insisted that it was okay to appreciate the other code but said the NRL shouldn’t fear rugby union because of the strength of its own competition.
“I feel like there’s been a lot of back and forth between the two codes as well,” said Robinson, who has had former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika and French rugby great Freddie Michalak on his coaching team in recent years.
“I really like rugby union. It’s okay to say as a rugby league guy that you like the game. They’ve got an amazing international game, which is the World Cup every four years – it’s a huge attraction for players and for us to watch. I enjoyed watching it.
“The European game strong. But the fact is we have the best rugby competition – league or union – in the world. That’s what the NRL is – it’s by far the best competition and they know it and we know it.
“Everyone around the world watches NRL. I can tell you that. From rugby union to rugby league players, they all know this is the hardest and longest competition in the world – and that’s why we enjoy watching so, therefore, there’s no fear on that.
Robinson said he had no doubt that Rugby Australia would look to lure across a couple of more players from the NRL, but added that the NRL shouldn’t “fear” anyone else leaving.
“They’ll have 15 spots and they might have four or five big players that are going to play in that,” he said.
“But we’ve got 17 teams and such a great competition. And that’s the calmness that says we’re going to produce players because of the way that we train, the competition that we have every week.
“We’re going to have a great competition always and this is the pinnacle of any Rugby competition in the world. So stay cool, relax, we’re going to produce players and don’t come out with fearful comments about other codes and all of that. Respect both sides of it, enjoy parts of their game but stand tall on what our game is. So just relax.”
Meanwhile, a day after Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan said he would open the door for Suaalii if he wanted to jump ship immediately, Robinson stopped any suggestion the teenager would be going anywhere before his contract ends following next year’s NRL competition.
“No, no. The speculation, it’s really simple. He’ll be here,” Robinson said.
“Those conversations are really clear between Joseph and myself and the club. And also there’s no desire from them to get him out early either. So that’s really simple. It doesn’t need to be speculated on, he’ll be up here for the next two years.”
Robinson added that Rugby Australia had landed themselves a prized scalp.
“Yeah, of course,” he said.
“Well, they’ve paid for potential as well. He’s still learning to get the best out of himself. He’s not the finished product. He’s still working really hard. He’s 19. And players will get better throughout their 20s. And our job is to continually push him to get the best out of himself and him himself as well.
So they’re paying for potential, which everybody can see and it’s our job and his job to progress that for the Roosters over the next couple of years.”