Souths are now working up a new contract extension of three to four years in the hopes of finally confirming the teenager’s signature.
“We’ve been keen on him for 12 to 18 months and it just hasn’t worked out,” Bennett said. “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.”
Bennett once again slammed the amount of attention and pressure put on the 17-year-old despite Suaalii having not yet played a first-grade game. The former Broncos coach said a number of players similar to the teen star came through the doors at Brisbane with little fuss made.
“I don’t know where the fanfare came from,” he said about Suaalii. “We [the Broncos] had a lot of top kids and we got deals done there without it necessarily being a headline every day and they were as talented as Joseph is.”
In terms of his own contract, Bennett revealed he had a “quick phone call” with Queensland Rugby League chairman Bruce Hatcher about potentially taking over for Kevin Walters as Maroons coach for the 2020 Origin series.
Kevin Walter is the front runner to become head coach at the Broncos, with the responsibility of an Origin series at the same time as starting at a new club considered potentially arduous.
“I said it privately to him and I’ll say it publicly to you, as long as Kevin has got the job I’m not trying to take the job off him,” Bennett said. “If they make another decision from QRL and I get on the shortlist I am happy to be there.”
Bennett said he could easily jump onto the role as Maroons coach straight after the 2020 season and said it would be a smart decision for the QRL to use a club coach.
“In my opinion that’s been one of the biggest mistakes they’ve made in rep football over a long period of time you want the best players in the team and you want the best coaches available coaching and if the best coaches are available that’s what you want,” he said. “That [hiring a separate coach] was a path they went down a long time ago that’s their decision and I don’t necessarily agree with that point of view.”
South Sydney have won six of their last seven games and will be looking to make the jump to 5th on the ladder with a win against the Bulldogs on Thursday night.
Earlier in the week, a number of the players said they considered themselves the “underdog” of the 2020 season with Bennett stating it was not his view.
“I’m happy with any label. We get all types of labels don’t we? I’ll take any of them. It may not be my opinion but that’s ok,” Bennett said.
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Sarah is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.