Michael Maguire makes eye-opening call on picking Joseph Suaalii for State of Origin

Maguire says his focus is simply on winning the 2024 Origin series with NSW.

Incoming New South Wales coach Michael Maguire has dispelled any notions that he's planning for the future after admitting he'll pick rugby-bound Roosters star Joseph Suaalii for the Blues, if he's the right fit for the side. Suaalii will leave the NRL at the end of the season after signing a $5 million deal with Rugby Australia to play with the Waratahs in the rival rugby code.

But Maguire is focused on reclaiming the State of Origin Shield for NSW this year and stopping the Maroons from winning a third straight series under coach Billy Slater. Maguire signed a two-year deal to take over from Brad Fittler as Blues coach but he's clearly not thinking any further ahead than 2024, and insists Suaalii's defection to the 15-man-a-side code won't hinder his chances of selection for the Blues.

Pictured right is NSW Blues coach Michael Maguire and rugby-bound Roosters winger Joseph Suaalii on left.
NSW Blues coach Michael Maguire says he would consider picking rugby-bound Roosters winger Joseph Suaalii in this year's Origin series. Pic: Getty

"If he's the best performer, I'd have no hesitations picking him," Maguire told SEN. "He's put a lot into rugby league at the moment, and he's available and at the end of the day it's about winning for your state. At the end of the day it's about living in the now and making the state proud.

"It's a step up... it's looking at the players and understanding whether I believe they can make that step up, and that's being able to handle the big moments in games." Suaalii is probably regarded as more of an outside chance at snagging a wing spot in Maguire's first NSW squad for the Origin opener in Sydney on June 5, with incumbents Brian To’o and Josh Addo-Carr, plus the NRL's form winger and leader in the Dally M Medal count, Zac Lomax, arguably ahead in the pecking order.

While Maguire's sole focus is on winning the series in 2024, veteran league journalist Phil Rothfield says the NSW coach should not reward a player like Suaalii who is leaving after this year. “I don’t like it,” Rothfield said on the Big Sports Breakfast. “It’s not as if we don’t have other options. We have Josh Addo-Carr, Brian To’o and Zac Lomax. I reckon Joseph probably isn’t playing quite as well as those three this year. I don’t like rewarding people who have chosen to nick off and play another sport. I’d like to see Madge give someone the Blues jumper who is committed to the Blues jumper for a long period of time.”


NSW coach not ruling out injured Mitchell Moses

Maguire also refused to rule out incumbent Blues five-eighth Mitchell Moses, despite the inspirational Eels playmaker being out for two months with a fractured foot. Moses has successfully undergone surgery and is hopeful of making an NRL return in round 12 against South Sydney - two days before the Origin squads are announced and just two weeks before the series kicks off.

Seen here, Mitchell Moses playing for Parramatta against Manly in the NRL.
Mitchell Moses has not played in the NRL since suffering a fractured foot in Parramatta's round three win over Manly. Pic: Getty

Moses impressed at halfback in the Blues' 24-10 dead rubber win in Game III last year, in the absence of regular NSW No.7 Nathan Cleary. And Maguire admits he's keen to see how the Eels halfback returns to the NRL after his long injury lay-off, before deciding whether he's ready or not for Origin.

"It's all dependent on who's available at that time," Maguire said. "If it was three weeks ago, I wouldn't have had Nathan (Cleary) or Mitchell. One thing I've learned is I'm not trying to pick a team now, I'm picking a team in weeks to come. Mitch might come out and absolutely blow it away and someone might not be available so the opportunity is well and truly there. At the end of the day, I'm enjoying talking to the players in the background and they know the expectations."