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Gold Coast Titans prop Jarrod Wallace.

Wayne Bennett knew very little of Jarrod Wallace when he agreed to return to coach the Broncos at the end of the 2014 season.

He certainly didn't know how close the then 23-year-old was to quitting the game altogether.

Now one of the Titans' marquee players tasked with trying to take down Bennett's Rabbitohs on Sunday night, five years ago Wallace was a shell of the man who has since gone on to play five Origins for Queensland.

In 2014 under Anthony Griffin, Wallace was used sparingly off the bench; sometimes not at all.

In the first two games of the season he was named in the 17 yet never made it on to the field, which goes some way to explaining why Bennett knew so little of a player who would become a cornerstone of his 2015 Broncos squad.

"When I went back I didn't even know about him," Bennett told

Titans forward Jarrod Wallace.
Titans forward Jarrod Wallace. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

"I hadn't seen him play, no one talked to me about him, no one suggested that he was even there.

"I thought at the time we were probably one big middle short for the season in front of us but his name just never came up."

In the last seven games that he played in 2014 between round 12 and the qualifying final, Wallace didn't play more than 19 minutes in any game and began to seriously doubt whether he had a future in the NRL.

I saw this big guy training and I thought, 'Who's this bloke? Where has he come from'?

Wayne Bennett on his first sight of Jarrod Wallace

"I was almost ready to quit football there for a bit, I was that unhappy with the way things were happening," Wallace revealed.

"I was down on myself and Wayne came in and built me back up as a player and helped me believe in myself again. He helped me to love football again.

"I was being told that I would get so many minutes and there were games where I was playing only two or three minutes in the back-end.

"It wasn't good. It breaks a person's confidence when that's happening because I started worrying that I wasn't doing the right thing, that I wasn't fit enough. I started doubting everything including my ability to play NRL.

"Wayne came in and we had a good pre-season. He said that he believed in me and that he would give me one game to show him that I could do it."

Buoyed by the opportunity ahead of him, Wallace ripped into pre-season training, and the master coach sat up and took notice.

"I remember turning up to training and I saw this big guy training and I thought, 'Who's this bloke? Where has he come from'?" Bennett recalled.

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"I asked a few questions and they told me that he was on the interchange bench, didn't get played much and the coach was always on his back.

"He trained pretty good, he was mobile so I thought to myself, I'll make this guy a bit of a project.

"I watched him train and I realised I had a footballer on my hands. His dad had played so he'd been brought up a footballer's son. Those guys have always got a bit of a lead on the rest of them because they understand the game.

"He just needed someone to have that bit of belief in them, give him some confidence."

Wallace played 24 games under Bennett in 2015 – including the grand final loss to the Cowboys – but it wasn't all smooth sailing.

"I remember threatening him in a team meeting one day," said Bennett, who has begun his tenure at the Rabbitohs with two strong wins over the Roosters and Dragons.

Wayne Bennett at the Broncos in 2015.
Wayne Bennett at the Broncos in 2015. ©NRL Photos

"He did something on the field that I just won't tolerate – I can't remember what it was – but I told him that he wouldn't play first grade here again and I was serious, and he knew I was serious.

"Whatever happened that day he never did it again."

But with his team 0-2 and facing arguably the form team of the competition, Wallace hopes to start repaying whatever debt he feels he owes Bennett after Sunday night.

"He was a massive influence on me, I loved playing under Wayne," said Wallace.

"I thank him very much for what he did for me but hopefully I can take it away from him this weekend."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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