Melbourne: Hollywood actor and South Sydney Rabbitohs co-owner Russell Crowe has thrown his weight behind efforts to retain schoolboy prodigy Joseph Suaalii at the National Rugby League (NRL) club, local media reported on Tuesday.
The Australian newspaper said Crowe had flown Suaalii, the 16-year-old back's family members and Rabbitohs managers by private jet to his rural estate in New South Wales state. The Rabbitohs signed Suaalii to a three-year under-age contract in February and hope to tie him to an adult deal when he becomes eligible on his 17th birthday on Saturday.
However, Rugby Australia (RA), the governing body of rugby union, are also trying to lure Suaalii to a professional career in the 15-man game.
The Rabbitohs declined to comment on Crowe's involvement but chairman Nick Pappas said they were "unashamed in their desire" to keep the teenager, who has represented Australia in junior rugby sevens.
"We are also aware that Joseph is 16 and that this decision is entirely up to him and his family," Pappas told The Australian.
"I know there may be a desire to play in the rugby sevens at the Olympics in Tokyo next year. Whatever Joseph and his family choose to do we will respect his decision."
The hype around Suaalii reached fever pitch last week amid reports he had signed a A$3 million ($2.15 million) contract to play rugby union. RA, which was plunged into financial crisis by the COVID-19 shutdown, were quick to rubbish the figures.
Crowe has previously played an influential role in player recruitment at his club. While shooting the 2010 film 'Robin Hood' in England, Crowe invited Sam Burgess to meet him on-set.
England international Burgess, who was being pursued by NRL rivals Manly at the time, ended up spurning the northern Sydney club to sign with the Rabbitohs and played a key role in their drought-breaking 2014 championship.