Bronco hopeful inspired by Bennett's belief
Rattled as a 17-year-old by the "tough love" dished out by players and coaches when he first joined the under-20s, Brisbane Broncos prop George Fai says it has been the nurturing nature of coach Wayne Bennett that has put him in the frame for an NRL debut this season.
Named in the 21-man squad each Tuesday by Bennett for all nine rounds of the 2017 Telstra Premiership to date, Fai is yet to make it to game day but may only have to wait three more weeks to achieve that particular dream.
Fai got a taste of the big time when he impressed off the bench for the Broncos in their World Club Series loss to Warrington in February but has been forced to bide his time playing for Souths Logan in the Intrust Super Cup.
His form has been such that he will line up for the Queensland Residents against the Intrust Super Premiership NSW Residents at Suzuki Stadium in Brisbane on Sunday where he can again put forward a case for NRL selection when the Broncos are without their Origin contingent for the Round 12 clash with the Warriors.
A Queensland representative every year of high school and chosen to play for the Australian Schoolboys in 2015, it was Bennett's attendance at Fai's first Intrust Super Cup game in 2015 that gave him the self-confidence to believe he could one day play NRL.
"I had a few struggles with my 20s coaches and stuff and he's kind of the only person that really believed in me and it's kind of working out the way it is now," Fai told NRL.com, who began playing under-20s with Brisbane at 17 years of age.
"I think I was just a bit disliked. The older boys have always got to give you that tough love type of thing and especially being young you think, I don't think this guy likes me. But at the end of the day they do, they just want the best for you and that's why they are the way they are.
"For me at the time I was worrying thinking that certain guys didn't like me and it wasn't until I played my first game for Intrust Super Cup against Tweed in 2015 that I was pretty fortunate that Wayne was there that day.
"Obviously I must have played all right for him to offer me a contract for the next year.
"I was pretty grateful for that day, just to have him out there and kind of spot me and have the belief in me to hopefully be something big for their team."
Describing himself as "cruisy" and a "family man", the extra attention Bennett has shown Fai over the past two years has been critical in the development of a 20-year-old with four siblings and a nephew he lovingly calls "my boy".
"Behind the scenes he's like an extra dad," Fai said of Bennett.
"All the boys will probably mock me for saying this but he's like a father you want around the club.
"He always wants the best for you and you kind of know when he's off you or doesn't really like you when he's not talking to you.
"Just to have him always asking me how I'm going through the week, how my off-field stuff is going, it's always good to have someone like that at the club, especially the head coach."
As for that weekly torture of waiting to see exactly where he will be playing on the weekend, Fai is confident that his time will come sooner or later.
"That's me every week, thinking, I hope he picks me this week," said Fai. "And even when he doesn't I've just got to keep working hard, keep doing what I'm doing and keep my head down and stay humble.
"I'm hoping I can stay fresh and keep up that consistency that he's been telling me about and hopefully [the Origin period] is my time and if it's not I've just got to keep the head down and keep working hard.
"For me, I've just got to keep performing week in and week out. That's the biggest struggle some people find. You've got some players that can play good one week and then struggle the next week, I think just consistency is what I need to step up.
"Obviously I've been doing pretty good just to be picked in [the Queensland Residents] team.
"Hopefully I can keep that up and the next step for me is hopefully NRL."