Raiders happy to welcome back Papalii

It was the demotion he admits he had to have, but for Canberra Raiders backrower Josh Papalii the journey back to the NRL was a short one.

The Origin and Kangaroos forward was one of two big names sent back to reserve grade by Raiders coach Ricky Stuart in the wake of their winless month to start the season.

Papalii’s axing was another bump in the road after his poor showing at last year’s World Cup and his battle to be fit during the preseason.

However, that is all behind the 25-year-old after he ran for a team-high 136 metres, despite coming off the bench in the 16-point win over Parramatta last weekend.  

”I just copped it on the chin like most players would,” Papalii said of his demotion.

”Sticky [Stuart] said I wasn’t in form and dropping me back didn’t hurt. Sometimes to get that spark back again you need to take a few steps backwards and come back a bigger and better player and hopefully that’s what I did.”

Papalii is one of several big-name Raiders stars who are off contract at the end of the season but denied the suggestion his recent demotion could affect his market value.

Another of those big-name players currently in talks is Blake Austin, who also made a successful comeback after being axed two weeks ago.

“Austo, Jack [Wighton] and I had a chat before the [Eels] game saying how good the boys looked against the Dogs,” Papalii said.  

”For us three to come back at the same time, we knew we had to keep that rolling on.”

Prop Shannon Boyd was also one of the bigger names to suffer a demotion after Canberra’s poor start, shifting back to the bench to make way for Junior Paulo.

Boyd said that he knew it was done for the benefit of the team in the long-term.

”I had a bit of an off week against Manly and Stick wanted to give me a bit of a wake-up call,” Boyd said.

”It is not as a good as starting but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

Boyd is determined to regain his starting spot, saying he hopes Stuart picks a bigger pack to start the game to combat the physical South Sydney forwards this weekend.

After giving up an average of 28 points in the first four weeks, the Raiders’ defensive effort and execution have improved drastically in the last fortnight.

Part of that can be attributed to veteran Sia Soliola, who led the charge against the Bulldogs and Eels.

”He’s always been a good defensive player, line-speed and whack,” Boyd said.

”He’s a good bloke to have on at the start of the game and brings the energy and everybody up to speed.”

However, don’t try and suggest Soliola might be in the form of his career despite being one of the older members of the side.

Raiders forwards Sia Soliola and Josh Papalii.
Raiders forwards Sia Soliola and Josh Papalii.
©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

The 31-year-old is averaging 32 tackles per game along with 80 metres with the ball.

But the consummate club professional said the number he only cares about is the one in Canberra’s win column.

”I am quite pleased with where I am physically, but just as long as I am doing a job for the team I don’t think about my own form too much,” Soliola said.

Soliola said the Raiders have another tough task in front of them this weekend when they travel to Sydney to take on the Rabbitohs, fresh off their impressive win over the Roosters last weekend.

”I’ve watched the Bunnies the last couple of weeks and they’ve been really impressive even with Sammy [Burgess] out,” he said.

”The twins [Tom and George Burgess] have really stepped up and Damien Cook has been tough around the ruck, so it’s a big challenge for us in the middle but we’re looking forward to it.”

 

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