Cooper Cronk has called on the NRL to allow teenage sensation Joseph Suaalii to play the entire season, declaring the Roosters leaders in nurturing young players.
Arguably the most sought-after signature in Australian sport since Kalyn Ponga four years ago, Suaalii arrived at the Tricolours in December with a weight of public interest and expectation on his young shoulders.
However, the 17-year-old won't celebrate his 18th birthday until August 1 this season, preventing him from turning out in the club's backline under current NRL rules.
The Roosters have made an application to the NRL to allow Suaalii to play before he is 18. The ARL Commission has requested more information from the club before a decision will be made and is awaiting a response from the Roosters.
Suaalii wasn't named for the club's trial match against the Wests Tigers in Camden on Saturday but is expected to have a run against the Raiders at Seiffert Oval on February 27.
From there, the Roosters are waiting on the ARL Commission to approve their request for Suaalii to make his NRL debut before he turns 18.
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"You don't get 17-year-olds who fall off the bandwagon every week and are ready to play first grade," Cronk said.
"This is a one in a three-to-five-year thing. He's physically gifted and can do things on the football field that I tried to do for 16 years and was not capable of doing.
"He can do it all physically but his greatest asset is his personality. He's humble, respectful, and well-mannered.
"I think when you've got that in a 17-year-old, a young kid who absorbs and understands information and respects the Roosters' way, I don't think age is a barrier for someone to do something.
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"The other thing that goes in the Roosters' favour is they had Latrell Mitchell five years ago and it was very similar.
"Football coaches and clubs aren't just about winning games of footy. They're about creating good men and turning boys into men that their parents and fans can be proud of.
"That's part of the Roosters and they don't take that responsibility lightly. I've been around it. The Melbourne Storm do it well, too. You've got to take that into consideration."
Cronk has returned to resume his off-field coaching role at the club after the COVID-19 pandemic sent players into a bubble last season. He working mainly with halves Luke Keary, Lachlan Lam, Adam Keighran, Drew Hutchison and Sam Walker.
After the club's first-choice halfback, Kyle Flanagan, lasted less than 12 months before moving to Canterbury, Cronk is confident Lam was capable of filling his once big premiership-winning shoes.
Lam has started on three occasions for the side in 11 appearances after coming through the junior system at the club.
"He's got an opportunity in the trial match next week and it's up to him," Cronk said.
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"I think when you're in your early 20s coming into first grade you can be intimidated.
"But Lachlan has played with Victor Radley since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. He and James Tedesco live near each other and are tight.
"He's a Rooster and understands all that. It's his time to play, essentially, it's time for Lachlan to do those things he's good at consistently over and take that opportunity."
Cronk added the Roosters had "learned their lessons" after bowing out of last year's competition in straight sets.
"I think if they won a premiership or bowed out in the finals it's the same desire that's forever there at the Roosters [in the pre-season]," Cronk said.
"Trent Robinson is the figurehead at that club and drives the momentum or energy and the players respond to that.
"I think they've learned their lessons from last year definitely, with what let them down.
"When you've got guys like Luke Keary and James Tedesco, arguably two of the top five players in the past couple of seasons, I think those guys take the responsibility.
"I think you'll see a pretty strong Roosters team back and fighting for the trophy again."
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