The Moses Suli story is a sad one. And unfortunately, one that gets told far too often in rugby league.
This isn’t your typical rugby league bad boy story. Suli never breached the NRL’s code of conduct. There was no wild bender. No off-field misdemeanour. He’s a good kid.
But to put it simply, his heart just wasn’t in it. He lacked the desire to uphold standards required to play in the NRL and now finds himself on the brink of being lost to the game for good despite enormous talent.
When he was sent packing from the Wests Tigers just a month ago, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs did their due diligence. They had heard the stories.
That sometimes he would turn up to training and sleep in a teammates car instead of hitting the training paddock.
That sometimes he would walk into the gym for a session and leave five minutes later. The Bulldogs knew all this.
But Suli convinced them things would be different.
“We went through a process where we had meetings with Moses and Dean and sat down prior to signing him and knew there were challenges,” Bulldogs chief executive Andrew Hill told NRL.com.
“But also once we met with him, we thought the change of environment would change his attitude. And he was definitely telling us that he was ready for a fresh challenge and a new outlook.”
Two weeks ago, NRL.com reported he was on the outer at the Dogs after he had already received two formal warnings and been sent home from training to think about his future.
The Bulldogs weren’t happy about the story. But privately some at the club felt it might have been the kick in the backside that he needed to help him realise just how close he was getting to throwing it all away.
Canterbury did everything they could. They moved him close to their Belmore base. They reinforced their standards. Two days after the NRL story was published, he was late to training once again.
“The first warning was the standard talk about this is how we do things at this club and this is what we expect,” Hill said.
“The second one was ‘here it is in writing, we’re fair dinkum’. He knew very well what standards he needed to meet.
“That was all part of our conditions of signing him. We told him we have a very strong and united group of 30-odd players here. You either buy in like everyone else or you’re telling us you don’t want to be here.”
And that was what he kept telling them repeatedly with his actions, failing to finish sessions let alone starting them late altogether.
It was hoped reuniting him with Warren McDonnell, the Bulldogs recruitment manager who had recruited him to the Wests Tigers several years ago, would have a positive influence.
Even prop Aaron Woods took him under his wing in the hope of igniting a passion that just wasn’t there.
“We thought the change of environment may have been the impetus for Moses to get that passion back for the game but that wasn’t the case,” Hill said.
“We were willing to give him the opportunity. We had great support around him. The resources at this club are second to none. But he wasn’t able to respond to that.
Unfortunately for Suli, he was almost set up to fail from the very beginning. He received a lot of unwanted attention after he reportedly signed the biggest contract in NRL history for a rookie player who hadn’t made his Telstra Premiership debut.
Some said it was as much as $1.3 million over three years. Others at the Wests Tigers would argue differently. But that’s neither here nor there.
The reality is he was placed under the spotlight at a tender age, and given his recent behaviour, those closest to him should have known he wasn’t ready to handle the ramifications of having such lofty expectations placed upon him.
Sadly, he’s now every chance of being lost to the game. But he’s still the game’s responsibility. NRL welfare officers have been in contact with him over the past few weeks and despite not having a contract with a club, Suli still requires the attention to help him battle some obvious mental demons.
He heartbreakingly lost his father, Manu Suli, after he discovered him passed out on the gym floor back in 2013.
It’s something no kid should ever have to endure. It’s a sad story. But it’s now up to Suli to discover how much he wants to fight for that happy ending to a promising career.