Pangai Jr returns faith in Bennett
TEVITA Pangai Jr has revealed how Wayne Bennett is shaping him to be one of the greats of the game, as the Broncos supercoach prepares to come up against possible successor Craig Bellamy on Sunday.
The Broncos and Storm will meet this weekend for the first time since news emerged that Brisbane were interested in signing Bellamy for 2020 and beyond.
Bennett's contract runs until the end of next year and the Broncos view the Melbourne mentor as the perfect man to take over the coaching role, whether Bennett is ready to move on or not.
The 68-year-old has copped plenty of criticism over the past two years, with claims from ex-players and critics that he has "lost the dressing room" and his "aura".
But for many still at the Broncos, that is not the case.
Pangai Jr has been one of Brisbane's best players this year, continuing his stunning development from a rookie to one of the strongest forwards in the game.
And the former Canberra under-20s star says a lot of that is thanks to Bennett.
The 22-year-old came to Brisbane during the 2016 pre-season because of his desire to play under Bennett and learn from the best.
In that time, Pangai Jr says Bennett has shown an unwavering belief in him and that is what makes him go from strength to strength on the field.
"He's the reason why I came up here," Pangai Jr said.
"He came up to me one day and it was weird, but he said, 'come see me in my office'. So I went up there and he said, 'do you want to be a first grader?' He said I could be a great of the game.
"We spoke about three things that day. One was nutrition, one was my talk and one was about competing.
"He just pushes me in all those areas of my game and I feel like it's paid off this year. He challenges me and has a lot of belief in me and I try to repay that each week.
"He knows how to relate to us (young players). He gives us tough love. He's not always going to give you compliments, you have to earn to that.
"Sometimes after a game if you haven't played too well, you won't get a handshake from him so you have to work hard the next week to get a handshake."
Pangai Jr said if Bennett does leave after the 2019 season, he just hopes his coach is given the respect he deserves.
The Tongan international has been named on the bench this week despite his stunning efforts for the forward pack while Josh McGuire (ankle) and Alex Glenn (knee) were out injured.
He was hopeful of retaining his place in the starting side but said he would always put the team and Bennett's wishes first.
However, the Storm will have to prepare for a re-energised Pangai Jr, who spent his bye week in California.
While he spent some time checking out the sights, Pangai Jr also went to a high school American football training session to see how they prepare for a game.
"I only just started following the NFL this year but I wanted to go see a high school or college training session," he said.
"They're real intense and into their training … watching the NFL has helped my own mindset in defence. I enjoy defence more than attack these days.
"My body was a bit sore (before the bye) but I came back refreshed, rejuvenated and ready for the back end of the season."