Rugby League

Canberra Raiders star Josh Papalii takes baby steps in return to form

Canberra Raiders star Josh Papalii's return to form has put him in the frame for a representative recall in next month's Four Nations, after admitting a World Cup hangover contributed to his early season slump. 

Papalii was overlooked for Australia's Test match against New Zealand in May, and was also dumped from Queensland's team after a quiet showing in Origin III. 

Josh Papalii has had a difficult year with the Raiders.
Josh Papalii has had a difficult year with the Raiders. Photo: Getty Images

The 22-year-old starred in Australia's World Cup campaign last year, and his purple patch in the last month has seen him rocket back into contention. 

Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens said Papalii was near certain to be named in the Four Nations train-on squad, with players from teams not featuring in finals to be announced next week. 

Canberra Raiders forward Josh Papalii welcomed his first child, Khalani-Rose,  into the world this week.
Canberra Raiders forward Josh Papalii welcomed his first child, Khalani-Rose, into the world this week. 

Canberra's final-round clash with Parramatta on Saturday is Papalii's last chance to impress Kangaroos selectors. 

"His form has been very good, I'm sure you'll find Josh will be in the train-on squad," Sheens said. 

"We're hoping he plays well on the weekend. There'll be the Papua New Guinea game [with the Prime Minister's XIII] he'll probably be involved in, as he was last year, and that convinced me to take him to the World Cup.

"Even though he missed out on the Test this year he had some [ankle] injuries. All young blokes have gone through that [slump]. It's a matter of fighting your way through it.  

"It's a learning curve your first 50 or 60 games in first grade, and Josh is there now. You go through the physical issues, let alone the mental ones, and he's had some ups and downs. 

"Ricky [Stuart, Raiders coach] has done a good job to help managing, and I'm hoping after Canberra finishes this weekend he'll maintain a level of fitness that keeps him in good shape for possible selection for that 24-man [Four Nations] squad."

While physical and mental fatigue have affected his form since the World Cup, Papalii had better get ready for some more sleepless nights. 

The back-rower welcomed first-born daughter Khalani-Rose into the world on Monday night, just a day after helping Canberra avoid the wooden spoon with a win at Cronulla. 

Papalii has been hindered by family issues at times this year, but happiness off the field is translating to a resurgence on it. 

"It [the birth] was the best experience I could get and I wouldn't trade it for the world, I'm pretty stoked," Papalii said. "I didn't try and be selfish and play for my daughter [in the win over Wests Tigers last week]. I wanted to prove a point to the fans and get a win."

Papalii confirmed he was worn down after playing 28 games last year, including three for Queensland and four for Australia, and stacked on weight after the World Cup. 

"I had a word with a couple of the senior boys and they helped me out, and advised me in a few areas I could work on," he said. 

"It's obviously taken a bit of time but I'm finding my feet again at the end of the year. I'm not too happy with how I've gone, but happy with how the team is gelling together.

"I'm not really thinking of Four Nations, it was a big focus for myself to get my injuries right and play well for the Raiders."

Asked if Papalii was putting himself in the frame for Four Nations, Canberra coach Stuart said: "Josh had a real hangover from the World Cup, there's just so much football they have to play. 

"At some stage you're going to be mentally and physically fatigued, and Josh was. You can't go and bash him at training and wear him down, but he was overweight and tired. 

"He's only a young boy, he's had to play a lot of football the last two years and he was off his game a number of weeks. You've seen what Josh is like now, it's a positive."