Bennett open to Suaalii NRL exemption

South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett is adamant there is no one more experienced than him to guide teenage sensation Joseph Suaalii into the NRL next year.

Coach WAYNE BENNETT of the Broncos answers questions at a press conference after the NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the Melbourne Storm at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia.
Coach WAYNE BENNETT of the Broncos answers questions at a press conference after the NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the Melbourne Storm at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia. Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Wayne Bennett believes there is no coach more equipped than himself to guide budding star Joseph Suaalii into the NRL.

Pressure has ramped up on the 16-year-old Suaalii this week as rival codes rugby league and rugby union engage in a public tug-of-war over his signature.

The negotiations prompted ARL Commission chair Peter V'landys to declare the league would consider relaxing its age limits to allow Suaalii to play first grade next season.

Current rules state players must be 18 to make their NRL debut.

Bennett on Wednesday said he would be comfortable with any decision, before suggesting Suaalii would be mature enough to handle the spotlight next year.

"I'm in favour of either way, case-by-case," he said.

"The players mature a lot earlier these days.

"They physically don't mature earlier but certainly mentally they do, because of all that's happening around them.

"Seventeen or 18, there's not much difference.

"He'll turn 18 in that year as well.

"Trying to go in line with what they do in junior football, that was the idea behind it."

Bennett insisted he had not spoken to league officials about changing the age-limit rule, nor has he spoken to Suaalii himself or the youngsters' family.

"I just think there's too many people in their ears now," Bennett said.

But the seven-time premiership-winning coach said he wasn't shy in wanting to bring Suaalii into grade.

It was only last week Bennett hit out at the media storm surrounding the teen.

"It will remain that way until he makes a decision," Bennett said.

"The one thing I know about all of it is that if he comes to this club, there's no one more experienced than I am of bringing young players into the NRL.

"I've brought that many young players through from my 33 years in coaching, and they need good people around them.

"They need good clubs to come into and I think South Sydney provides all that... We'll just have to wait until his decision now."

Bennett said Suaalii's pre-season with the NRL squad last summer convinced him that the GPS product would be a future star in rugby league.

"Talent's the beginning for all these young men. He's got lots of talent but there's a lot of work in front of them all," he said.

"A lot of young guys lose their way still with talent because they won't make the sacrifices that are necessary. But he's certainly got the talent.

"And I'm sure he'll make the sacrifices."