Suaalii could have started the 2021 season in first grade after the NRL granted him an exemption to play early, but Robinson held his debut back until round 11. In hindsight, the outside back believes it was the right call.
“As a young kid coming in, you just want to play, play, play,” he said. “Now, having time to reflect, I’ve seen what Robbo’s done and I’m thankful for the way he’s done it.
“Obviously, not playing me straight away and letting me have a couple of games in NSW Cup helped me grow as a player before I was in the big league.
“It wasn’t frustrating, it was more part of the process. I’ve always thought I was going to play in the NRL one day and when Robbo gave me the opportunity I took it all in and was grateful.”
The NRL initially brought in the 18-year-old age rule amid concerns teens would otherwise enter the pressure-cooker environment of first grade before they were physically and mentally ready. However, Suaalii reflects fondly on his ability to be a trailblazer.
“As a young kid I’ve always wanted to play NRL,” he said. “In my head, I knew I was going to play in the NRL when I was 17. Being able to play was a dream of mine.
“It’s helped my development. For me personally, I’ve always wanted to play against the best and being able to do it at a young age helped me as a player. I always want to go against the best.”
Having completed school last year, Suaalii has begun a course in business administration and global studies at Australian Catholic University. He believes it gives him a good balance on and off the field.
“Mum has always told me to finish school and have a plan B for footy,” he said.