Australia’s World Cup defense has taken two heavy blows, with Joseph Suaalii withdrawing from the Kangaroos selection along with Payne Haas.
Roosters aviator Suaalii dropped the bombshell Wednesday that he will play for Samoa, just hours after Haas pulled out of the tournament to focus on the Broncos preseason.
Haas was certain to be included in manager Mal Meninga’s 24-man squad set to travel to England next month, while Suaalii was seen as a great opportunity.
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“Due to family reasons, I have decided to pledge my allegiance to Samoa for the upcoming World Cup,” Suaalii told News Corp.
“It was one of the most difficult decisions of my career. I am humbled by the respect Kangaroos trainer Mal Meninga shows me and my family.
“I called him personally on Tuesday to let him know 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’ve 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.
“I hope to play for Australia one day. I really believe Samoa can do great things at this World Cup and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
Haas has signed with the Broncos amid his chaotic contract saga and confirmed he will miss the World Series to focus on the 2023 NRL season.
Haas won his fourth consecutive Paul Morgan medal, awarded to Brisbane’s best player of each season, on Tuesday night.
The superstar prop was seen as a suspension for Mal Meninga’s Kangaroos team, who will fly to England next month to retain the world title.
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Haas dismissed gossip that he was considering playing for Samoa, saying it was a difficult decision to retire but one he made for family reasons.
“I spoke to Mal and told him I wanted to represent Australia. I was born here and I’m Australian first,” Haas said.
“I tossed and turned it for a couple of weeks.
“I just thought, this year, especially with my body, things haven’t worked out well this year and with everything that’s happened to my family (his mother’s incarceration), I felt like I needed to be home.
“As an older sibling, I feel like I need to be there for my little brothers and give them a little bit of guidance.
“I felt that was more important than going to England to play in the World Cup.
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“I felt like I had to be there for my family and take care of myself.”
The withdrawals could open the door for Matt Lodge and Selwyn Cobbo to break into the Kangaroos roster.
Samoa offers a real shot at winning the tournament with Penrith stars Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton, Izack Tago, Jarome Luai and Taylan May playing alongside Suaalii.
Cowboys and Maroons flyer Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Tigers star David Nofoaluma will find it difficult to make the starting XI.
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