The NRL’s youngest player in the past 85 years wants the game to block Joseph Suaalii’s debut, admitting he wishes the same rules were in place to protect him.
Jordan Rankin created headlines in 2008 when he debuted for Gold Coast at age 16, well before NRL restrictions that made players wait until their 18th birthday.
The Sydney Roosters are expected to soon apply for an exemption for 17-year-old Suaalii, after Peter V’landys last year declared the rule would now be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
The likes of Cooper Cronk last week declared Suaalii ready, adamant the Roosters could put the right protections around the centre to debut this year.
Those in support point out the Roosters’ and Trent Robinson’s history with youngsters, including the likes of Latrell Mitchell.
But Rankin said the NRL had to maintain the rule with no exceptions.
“A blanket rule keeps kids safe,” Rankin told AAP.
“It lets them mature and develop the way they need to develop.
“It doesn’t make them have to try and be better than what they are at a certain point in their career.
“I’m not worried about him physically at all. He’s quite a physical, kid … It’s the mental side of it. It’s the papers; it’s everything else in between.”
Rankin did not play another NRL game for three years after his debut, turning out 16 times for the Titans between 2011 and 2013 before heading to the English Super League.
He later returned as a 25-year-old at the Wests Tigers, before heading back to England and then dashing back to Australia last year and signing with Parramatta.
But the Eels playmaker believes his career would be far different if his debut was prevented at age 16.
“It was the greatest thing that happened in my career to date, but it wasn’t the right thing,” Rankin, now 29, said.
“If I had my time again and had the chance to say no or someone could have for me, that would have been the best thing for me.
“It stunted my career; it took me two, three years to get over.
“I expected myself to be somewhere where everyone else thought I was going to be.”
Suaalii’s situation is different in that he would likely be eased in by the Roosters after a stint in NSW Cup, and have a far longer run.
But Rankin is still concerned about the effects media speculation has had on him over the past 12 months, all before his 18th birthday on August 1.
“He is already put in a position where he’s meant to be something,” Rankin said.
“And to do that to a kid who hasn’t even played against men is a massive, massive deal.
“I strongly urge anyone who thinks he’s ready to just think about it a little bit more.”