Powerhouse Papalii shows why he should be permanent starter
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.