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Players’ union open to bending NRL rules for Suaalii

“I think it’s great the game is in a position to attract and retain the best talent,” Newton said.

Joseph Suaalii appears set to sign for Souths.

Joseph Suaalii appears set to sign for Souths.

“We always need to bear that in mind as we work through these CBA revisions. We need to be sure we’re still regarded as the sport of choice for men and women in this country.

“With regards to the rule, we’re open to exploring any rule that’s captured within the CBA that may require some level of adjustment or alteration if warranted.

“The rule was put in place for a reason, but we’re open to exploring it. You’d like to think Joseph playing in the NRL would be a good investment in his future, not only for next year, but the ensuing years.

“We’ll work through that process with the NRL. If Joseph were to sign with the NRL, we would be in a position where, the terms and conditions and benefits and entitlements we will be able to secure over the coming weeks, will certainly set him up.

“There may be a level of discretion provided, but at the end of the day we need to step through that with the NRL. They are committed to doing that with us.”

Wade Graham is well placed to offer perspective. The Cronulla captain made his first-grade debut at Penrith while he was still 17 – “it was a dream come true for me as a kid,” Graham said – before the age restrictions came into effect.

In hindsight, the NSW and Australian forward concedes he wasn’t ready for the step-up.

“The attitude back then was if you’re good enough you’re old enough,” Graham said.

“I certainly look back at my time when I came through and it was too early for me. My body wasn’t quite ready for it. I had shoulder surgery the next season, because of the damage the game had brought about on my body and I spent the next 12 months in the gym trying to build up to be strong enough to play the week in, week out grind of NRL.”

Graham said it was difficult to implement a hard-and-fast rule given players physically mature at different rates. He suggested capping the number of games played by those under 18 as a potential compromise.

“Maybe one game here, one game there isn’t such a bad thing,” he said.

“But if you start to get into the six, seven, eight games of the season you need to step in and manage that sort of thing.”

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Sources with knowledge of negotiations have told the Herald South Sydney co-owner Russell Crowe flew Suaalii up to his Nana Glen estate during the school holidays in the hope of convincing him to recommit to the Rabbitohs. Given he is currently contracted to the NRL club, he would require a release should he wish to play for the Waratahs instead.

Suaalii is expected to make a final decision this week.

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