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Moses, Cleary, Graham share differing views on Suaalii

One-time teen stars Mitchell Moses and Nathan Cleary have backed the push to allow Joseph Suaalii to make his NRL debut before the age of 18.

The Rabbitohs are reportedly locked in a battle with Rugby Australia over the signature of in-demand young gun Suaalii – a rising outside back who turns 17 this weekend.

While Moses and Graham are supportive of the push for Suaalii to be given the chance to play in the NRL before the age of 18, Sharks captain Wade Graham has expressed caution.

Graham debuted as a 17-year-old, Cleary 18 and Moses 19. All three are now among the upper echelon of players in the NRL.

ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys told a media conference on Monday the game would consider an exemption for Suaalii to play in the NRL before his 18th birthday in a bid to help the Rabbitohs get their man.

Cleary: If you’re good enough, you’re old enough

Moses has no doubts Suaalii had the pedigree to walk into the NRL after watching him at a cousin's rugby union game last year.

"The kid's a freak," Moses said on Tuesday.

"He's a bit different, I think he could be ready to play next year.

"If he's got the right people around him to look after him and if the club looks after him well with his loads and things like that he should be fine.

"Every case will be different but I think he could be ready to play soon."

Cleary added the mental side of the game could be his biggest hurdle but was impressed by what he saw after viewing a recent highlights reel. 

Don't risk a superstar: Kimmorley's message on Suaalii

"I don't think it's the actual footy that is the main worry but all the off-field stuff," Cleary said.

"I think it's the increased scrutiny and media around it that's the tough part. I'm sure he can handle it. With the raps he's got, he looks like a really good player. 

"I'm sure it's not about talent but the mental side of things and getting a good support base around him. 

"It's all around the mind and preparing him what's to come."

Earlier on Tuesday, Cronulla captain Wade Graham said there are future NRL debutants who should be considered "exceptions" but warned bending the rules around the minimum age should only be allowed on a case-by-case basis.

Graham referred to Israel Folau and Greg Inglis as successful examples of athletes who were physically ready for their Melbourne Storm debuts at 17 and 18 respectively before becoming instant success stories.

I look back at my time ... it was too early for me. My body wasn't ready for it

Wade Graham on Joseph Suaalii

However, Graham used his own experiences as a 17-year-old making his NRL debut at Penrith in 2008 to suggest not every emerging player is ready for the rigors of first grade.

The age-restriction policy came into effect in 2018.

"It's hard to put in a one size fits all rule because everyone's different," Graham said.

"I understand why the rules came in, to protect the younger players. The wear and tear on the body physically – the majority of kids are probably not physically mature enough yet to play the game.

"The attitude back then was 'if you're good enough, you're old enough'. I look back at my time when I came through and it was too early for me. My body wasn't ready for it.

"I had shoulder surgery the next season because of the damage the game brought about on my body.

"I spent the next 12 months in the gym trying to build up to be strong enough to play the week in week out grind in the NRL.

"It's not so much the one game here or there that takes its toll but the continuous grind, playing against the opposition who are big, strong and constantly challenging you physically."

Graham suggests a possible solution is capping the number of games players under 18 could play in their first season.

"If they debut early and are under a certain age then maybe they can only play a certain number of games throughout the year," he said.

"But there's always an exception to the rule. It's hard to deny someone if they're physically ready.

"The only people who know are the guys that are involved with them every day – the performance staff and coaches.

"They're the guys who have to trust. If they believe the player is ready then they're in the best position to make that decision."

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