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V'landys open to clearing pathways for Suaalii, Gus

The ARL Commission will consider an exemption for in-demand schoolboy Joseph Suaalii to make his NRL debut before he turns 18 as chairman Peter V'landys also flags a pathways consultancy role for Phil Gould.

On a busy day at Rugby League Central, V'landys launched the game's Indigenous Round before holding court on the two biggest stories of the day – the future of a 16-year-old prodigy and a 62-year-old that has seen it all and then some in rugby league.

Suaalii turns 17 this weekend, and with that birthday, he would be able to officially take up and register a lucrative Rabbitohs contract.

Indications are South Sydney will trump Rugby Australia in the high-profile battle for his services, with V'landys on Monday confirming an additional carrot could be dangled by the governing body.

Under current NRL rules players cannot play first grade until after their 18th birthday.

But V'landys said the Commission would look to change the game's rules in both Suaalii's case and others further down the line.

"Absolutely. We will look at anything that is to the benefit of the game," V'landys said when asked if NRL age restrictions could be re-evaluated.

"That is what the Commission is there for - to look at the benefit of the game, the promotion of the game and the outcomes of the game.

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"We should look at every case on its merits. We should not have blanket rules that stop you from doing things that are for the benefit of the game."

Good judges at South Sydney, including former English international Sam Burgess, rate Suaalii as NRL ready or close to it, while the Waratahs have also indicated a willingness to pitch the youngster into Super Rugby in quick time as well.

The RLPA will be consulted before any decision is reached by the Commission on any age-restriction changes given the rules were first enacted in the interests of player welfare and safety.

Gould meanwhile is being sized up by V'landys for a consultancy role at head office.

V'landys told on Monday afternoon that as yet, Gould has not indicated whether he is willing to join the NRL, with the capacity of any role still being discussed.

But the chairman is adamant the NRL "would be mad" not to draw on Gould's experience across a lifetime in the game, as a player, coach, administrator and media commentator.

Gould's most recent role in clubland at Penrith had its ups and downs, with several players released early from their contracts and the club footing a multimillion-dollar bill in recent coaching pay-outs to Anthony Griffin and Ivan Cleary.

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But Gould's influence in establishing the Panthers' industry-leading juniors nursery is indisputable, with V'landys flagging grassroots and player participation as the first areas he wants Gould to target.

"He will do special projects - the Commission has approved one project, and there will be various projects," V'landys said.

"But in particular my focus is on participation and the pathways,  especially in the Pacific Islands and New Zealand.

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"Basically he will have a role, if he accepts it, in those areas. 

"The NRL will use any person that can give outcomes. We want outcomes for our game. Phil Gould is a rare person in that he's been in every part of the game … If we can harvest some of the things that he can do for us, it would be a good thing.

"Not only Phil Gould, but any person that has that ability and experience to get outcomes for the game we will use."

A review of the referees set-up and the NRL video bunker has also been flagged previously for Gould.

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Head of football Graham Annesley said he did not "have a mortgage on all good ideas" and would have no issue with Gould's opinion being sought on the referees operations.

V'landy's conceded Gould's obvious conflicts of interest as a Channel Nine commentator – and vocal critic of the NRL Bunker – loom as an issue in such a role.

Gould's push to join the NRL player agent ranks is another potential bone of contention, but one V'landys said shouldn't rule him out of steering administrators under the right circumstances.

"They’ll be addressed at the time. Everyone’s got a conflict in some way or fashion but we will give him projects where he hasn’t got a conflict," V’landys said.

"I don’t think looking at the pathways or looking at the Pacific Islands or looking at New Zealand has got any conflict.

"If he was to look at the refereeing situation or the Bunker, then yes there may be a conflict because he comments on that, and the conflict is actually to our benefit because he may not be as critical.

"But, look, the challenge is there for him to manage the conflicts. But at the end of it, I’m looking for outcomes. I’m looking at things that can improve the game.

"If Phil Gould can improve the game, I make no apology that we’ll use him."

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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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