Suaalii attention totally unfair: Bennett

Pamela Whaley
Souths coach Wayne Bennett has criticised the media's reporting of teenager Joseph Suaalii's future

Wayne Bennett has labelled the intense media speculation of teen star Joseph Suaalii as 'totally unfair' following reports of Rugby Australia's $3 million plans to poach him from South Sydney.

The 16-year-old is contracted to the Rabbitohs on a rookie contract but has become the target of RA with the belief his freakish ability and marketability would bring positive attention to the embattled sport.

However, on Friday morning the Souths coach took aim at media for the extraordinary attention the teen has received this week, saying he wouldn't want it for any 16-year-old.

When asked if the NRL should do more to protect young players being put under too much pressure so early in their career, Bennett said: "I don't know the answer.

"There's a responsibility from journalists too, but you don't carry any responsibility with that, you put it all back on us.

"But the bottom line is, I don't know what the answer is.

"I know the publicity he's copped in the past couple of days is not what I would want for my 16 year old.

"We still don't know how good he's going to be and all of a sudden he's got this huge burden of expectation placed upon him, it's not healthy for anybody that's in that situation."

It's been reported Suaalii is being offered a three-year, $3 million deal with the dream of playing in the Tokyo Olympics next year, but the figures have been rubbished by RA.

Suaalii is contracted to Souths until the end of next season and under NRL rules is unable to play first grade until he turns 18.

It's understood the Rabbitohs are offering him $550,000 per season beyond 2021.

While Bennett said he hadn't yet spoke to Suaalii, he said the teenager is not yet old enough to handle the pressure put on him in these negotiations.

"There's so much speculation and probably a bit of fact in it somewhere," he said.

"My big issue with Joe and any kid at his age is it's just totally unfair with the amount of scrutiny that's put on them.

"It's life-changing for them and they're not old enough to handle it, and that's the part that disappoints me.

"The rest of it, makes his football career more difficult than guys who are 16 and playing and may go on to be wonderful players in the future and no one really knows you."