Wayne Bennett has cast serious doubt over teen freak Joseph Suaalii’s future at the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Currently under contract with the Bunnies, Suaalii is one of the hottest young prospects in rugby league but the 17-year-old's extraordinary contract demands have put the Bunnies in a difficult position to tie him down on a long-term deal.
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Bennett says the ball is firmly in teenage sensation Joseph Suaalii's court after Souths knocked back a request for get-out clauses in the youngster's five-year NRL deal.
Channel Nine league reporter Danny Weidler revealed details of the youngster's "remarkable" contract demands this week.
“What he wants is a five-year deal from the Rabbitohs, but he has rejected any approach in regards to that because he wants certain clauses in that in his favour," Weidler told Nine's 100% Footy.
“It’s a little bit complicated but he wants an upgraded deal for 2021, and then for 2022, 2023, 2024, 2025 to be at Souths.
“But 2022, 2023 and 2024 he wants get-out clauses in his favour.”
It's understood Suaalii, who earlier this year attracted a cross-code bidding war with rugby union, also had similar get-out clauses in a three-year rugby union deal.
The Rabbitohs have offered the 17-year-old a lucrative three-season contract, which would have likely seen the talented fullback make his NRL debut at the club.
However, Bennett confirmed a report on Wednesday that Souths' offer had been countered by a five-year deal from the teenager, which would have allowed him to walk away after 2022 at his discretion.
❗BREAKING❗— NRL on Nine (@NRLonNine) September 14, 2020
Teen sensation Joseph Suaalii's negotiations with South Sydney are getting complicated.🤔🤔
The juggling act of deciding on rugby or league continues for the prodigy!🏉
Stream 100% Footy: STREAM: https://t.co/qROuZdXPWL#9WWOS #NRL pic.twitter.com/fS01DhDRvr
The veteran coach admitted on Wednesday that his club is not prepared to accept Suaalii's contract demands and therefore risks losing the player to another club or code.
"I don't think either parties have closed the door, but certainly at this point in time he is not coming here," Bennett said.
"We've been keen on him for 12 to 18 months and it just hasn't worked out.
"There are a lot of things going on for him so they will come back with conditions, it may not be final yet but it certainly is from our point of view at the moment."
It’s understood the Rabbitohs' three-year deal for Suaalii has not yet been registered, which explains his decision to counter with a five-season proposal.
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Suaalii would likely be a hit in Rugby Sevens, potentially making the Olympics an enticing option.
The teen currently plays the 15-a-side game for illustrious Sydney private school Kings.
Rugby Australia earlier this year considered a big-money deal, before Peter V'landys declared the NRL would consider relaxing age rules to allow him to play first grade next season before turning 18.
But Bennett has long tried to downplay the situation, and insisted this week Suaalii's talent was nothing new.
"I was at the Broncos for a number of years and we had a lot of top kids there," he said.
"And we got deals done there without being a headline every day, and they were as talented as Joseph is."
It comes as Bennett's Rabbitohs continue to time their run into the finals nicely, sitting sixth with two rounds to play.
They have emerged as the NRL's best attacking teams in the past six weeks ahead of Thursday night's clash with Canterbury.
"We're doing a lot of things right, we've won six out of seven games so that gives you confidence," Bennett said.
"It's the right time of the year to be doing that.
"I just don't want to see us lose our confidence."