Bennett happy to answer Pangai's SOS
As an Australian Schoolboys and Junior Kangaroos representative who had terrorised the under-20s competition for three seasons Tevita Pangai Jnr had the rugby league world coming to him, but he knew where he wanted to be.
Contracted to the Raiders for 2016 but struggling to find a way into their NRL squad, Pangai took matters into his own hands earlier this year and made a phone call to Brisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett.
"I just told him to hop off the phone and I'd get him here as quick as I could," Bennett said on the eve of Pangai playing for Brisbane against his former club at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night.
That first phone call set in place a chain of events that led to Brisbane signing the hulking forward to a two-year deal commencing in 2017 but some roster management at the Raiders opened the door for Pangai's arrival 12 months early.
The Raiders first sought to secure Junior Paulo from the Eels without success – initially – but when Joseph Tapine was released by the Knights to take up a four-year deal in Canberra the Raiders were open to allowing Pangai to move north ahead of schedule.
In just his third NRL game on Thursday the 20-year-old from Newcastle faces up against his former club, Bennett praising his courage to pick up the phone and take control of his own future.
"The guy's smart," said Bennett.
"He knows he's only got a few opportunities in rugby league and if he doesn't make good decisions and good choices then you can be at four or five clubs before you're marched out of the competition and that's what happens with a lot of young players.
"He realised what he thought he needed and picked the phone up and made a phone call."
After arriving at the Broncos the week the 2016 season kicked off, Pangai was first placed into the Holden Cup team before being sent to Souths Logan to further his game playing in the Intrust Super Cup.
In a handful of games for the Magpies Pangai was forced to play 80 minutes in the middle against men more commensurate to his size and immediately impressed Souths Logan coach Josh Hannay with his physical presence.
Hannay, who played 172 first grade games and two Origins for Queensland, said that while Pangai is comfortable playing in the middle at present he believes he could develop into a damaging edge back-rower in the style of former Bulldog Frank Pritchard.
"In the middle there's safety in numbers. You've got other big bodies around you and you probably don't get exposed as much defending in the middle as you do when you're on an edge," Hannay told NRL.com.
"I've got a feeling that ultimately he might be an edge back-rower because he's got that mobility like a Frank Pritchard when he was coming through in his prime and tearing sides apart on an edge.
"I hate making comparisons but I see Tevita as being in a similar mould. He's got that mobility and he'd terrorise edge defenders as he develops.
"The freak things will just happen for him because he's got that kind of ability. He doesn't have to force it, he just needs to focus on the fundamentals and doing his job.
"He's got all the talent in the world to do the extraordinary."
But other than a phone call that Bennett says happens "more often than you'd probably think", Pangai hasn't been expected to come up with the extraordinary at Brisbane.
Like Hannay, Bennett knows all too well that with a player of such ability those moments of brilliance will come as a matter of course.
"He's in that rare category of players that have just got something," said Bennett. "Without giving him a big head, he's got a point of difference so he didn't have to convince me about a whole lot of things.
"He just had to come here and do a bit of time and get used to the club and the people in it and we had to get a bit of confidence in him.
"We've done that so it's worked good for him and worked good for us."