Pow­er­house Pa­palii shows why he should be per­ma­nent starter

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - SPORT -

AF­TER be­ing rel­e­gated to the in­ter­change bench in Can­berra’s win over Mel­bourne the week be­fore, Josh Pa­palii had an em­phatic mes­sage for coach Ricky Stu­art ahead of Fri­day’s pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal against South Syd­ney — start me.

And lucky Stu­art lis­tened af­ter Pa­palii pro­duced ar­guably the best per­for­mance in his 196-game ca­reer in the 16-10 vic­tory to ad­vance to next Sun­day’s grand fi­nal show­down at ANZ Sta­dium.

Pa­palii proved why he is the game’s

best prop af­ter pump­ing out 70 min­utes — in­clud­ing 53 min­utes to start the game. It is a re­mark­able trans­for­ma­tion for Pa­palii, who has axed to re­serve grade last year.

His barn­storm­ing per­for­mance against South Syd­ney came af­ter Pa­palii started Can­berra’s open­ing fi­nals win against the Storm from the in­ter­change bench.

“It was our call,” Pa­palii said. “Me and a few of the mid­dles spoke about who should start. Not play­ing for two weeks I was keen to start. Our start­ing side did a great job. The boys off the bench came on when all the de­fen­sive work was hap­pen­ing. It was a mas­sive team ef­fort. We are go­ing to en­joy the week ahead.”

So em­phatic was Pa­palii’s per­for­mance it earnt him a per­fect 10 in The Sat­ur­day Tele­graph’s player rat­ings.

The 27-year-old scored the match­win­ning try, his 167 run­ning me­tres was the most of any for­ward and he made 36 tack­les.

“I felt good,” Pa­palii said. “It’s up there (with the best game I’ve played). It’s not ev­ery day you play to get into a grand fi­nal. We’ve done that.

“I just felt good so I stayed out there. A few sets I burnt out but with the for­wards we have it’s quite mo­bile. The boys go all day. It worked out well.”

Pa­palii breathed a sigh of relief af­ter be­ing cleared by the match re­view com­mit­tee for a tackle on South Syd­ney’s Adam Doueihi that forced the full­back to come from the field for a con­cus­sion test.

Pa­palii was placed on re­port but said af­ter the game he wasn’t too wor­ried about the tackle and “what­ever would be would be”.

Team­mate Sia So­li­ola was charged with a grade one care­less high tackle on Sam Burgess but he will be free to play the grand fi­nal by pay­ing a $ 1150 fine. The Raiders have a few in­jury con­cerns, though. Joey Leilua is fac­ing a bat­tle to be fit to play next Sun­day af­ter limp­ing from the field with a calf in­jury.

Leilua is the only Raiders player with an NRL grand fi­nal un­der his belt, hav­ing played in the Roost­ers’ 2010 premier­ship loss to St Ge­orge Illawarra. His in­jury opens the door for Bai­ley Si­mon­s­son to start on the wing and Nick Cotric at cen­tre. Jack Wighton is un­con­cerned about a shoul­der in­jury.

English­man Ryan Sut­ton could come onto the bench if Leilua is ruled out.

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