South Sydney centre Kirisome Auva’a is effectively a free agent after triggering a clause in his contract that allows him to test his market value.
Auva’a is one of the season’s most unlikely success stories, picking up a minimum-wage contract with the Rabbitohs after being deemed surplus to requirements at Cronulla. At one point Auva’a – who can bench press 150 kilograms – considered a career as a professional bodybuilder until the Rabbitohs offered him a lifeline.
Instead, he won a premiership in his rookie NRL year, scoring the match-clinching try in his side’s breakthrough grand final win against Canterbury. In the process he played his 21st NRL game, activating a clause in his Bunnies deal allowing him to exercise his options if he made more than 20 first-grade appearances. The 22-year-old retains the right to see out his two-year deal at Redfern, which will guarantee him a pay increase but is still understood to be below his market worth.
“He’s really enjoyed his time at Souths and we do have another year there,” said Auva’a’s manager, Andrew Purcell. “The clause was put in to ensure he is paid his market value. We’ve fielded a little bit of interest. Souths have been great about the whole thing. They’re in a difficult situation and are doing their best to help the young fella out by upgrading him and keeping him.”
Auva’a was born in Samoa and had the opportunity to represent his country of birth, but instead pledged his allegiance to New Zealand. His omission from the Kiwis’ Four Nations squad was considered a surprise and prompted the nation’s former skipper, Hugh McGahan, to describe him as unlucky. Auva’a feared he would not ever get a look in when he signed for the Rabbitohs and was overlooked for the opening five rounds. However, he ended up scoring nine tries and averaging 105 run metres per game in an unforgettable start to his NRL career.
“When I didn’t get named in that round-one team I had a lot of head noise going on,” Auva’a said after his grand final heroics. “[Coach Michael Maguire said] ‘I believe in you, keep chipping at it and when you get a chance, don’t look back’. When I got my chance in round six, well it’s all history now.
“I’m speechless, I can’t put into words how I’m feeling. To win a ring in the first year along with the other rookies in our team is something special. It takes a lot of work, a lot of sacrifices and a lot of pain. And it’s all worth it when you get there.
“A lot of belief has been put into me by Madge and the coaching staff and you can’t let them down when they put that much faith in you. I tried to perform every week to keep my spot.”
Veteran three-quarter Lote Tuqiri is yet to decide whether to play on, while Souths will begin their premiership defence without Ben Te’o, Beau Champion, Apisai Koroisau and Nathan Merritt. The Rabbitohs will also be without chief financial controller Joe Kelly, who replaced David Perry as the boss at Manly.