NSW coach Michael Maguire has offered a surprising rationale for selecting Joseph Suaalii to make his State of Origin debut.

The Roosters centre announced back in March 2023 that he would switch to rugby union at the end of the 2024 NRL season.

At the time, Suaalii was still a teenager and highly regarded in rugby league, with a reported deal worth around $6 million, extending through the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia.

This decision led many to suggest excluding Suaalii from representative honors during his final years in the 13-man code. However, Maguire dismissed these concerns and selected the now 20-year-old to start in the centres alongside the Bulldogs’ Stephen Crichton for the Blues.

When asked about his decision on NRL 360, Maguire provided a puzzling comment regarding Suaalii’s dedication to rugby league.

“Another debutant in this game, Joey Suaalii, I know you’ve known him for a long time,” journalist Brent Read began, referring to Maguire’s history with Suaalii.

“But some people didn’t think he should be eligible for selection, including one person at this table,” Read added, alluding to veteran scribe Phil “Buzz” Rothfield, who had opposed Suaalii’s selection due to his impending switch to rugby union. Rothfield responded: “Sorry for having an opinion, Brent. He’s going to rugby union.”

Maguire explained: “I’ve known Joey since he was 13 and I know his dreams. I tried to sign Joey as a young kid coming through, so you get to know your people. And Joey is as passionate about rugby league as any of us.

“I’m living in the now, and he’s been performing really well for his club. He deserves everything he gets. In time, he’ll move on to what he’s doing in his life, but I know Joey’s going to be sensational for us.”

Maguire has also named Isaah Yeo, Spencer Leniu, Haumole Olakau’atu, and Hudson Young on the bench. When questioned about covering potential injuries to the outside backs, he stressed he had options, similar to the Maroons’ selection of versatile players like Selwyn Cobbo and Harry Grant.

“I’ve got cover there, I’m not going to give up my secrets,” Maguire said. “I’m confident in how we can manage things.”

Game 1 of the 2024 Origin series kicks off at Sydney’s Accor Stadium on Wednesday, June 5, before the series moves to Melbourne and Brisbane.