Searching for form: Raiders star Josh Papalii has struggled with injury and fitness in 2014. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
While Australia coach Tim Sheens and Queensland coach Mal Meninga have weighed in with advice to Josh Papalii about his form slump, Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart says it was Papalii's own call to play in the Queensland Cup during this weekend's representative bye.
Papalii will line up for Raiders feeder club Souths Logan Magpies in their match on Sunday against the Ipswich Jets, while prop Shannon Boyd will turn out for Mounties in the NSW Cup on Saturday against Wests Tigers.
Stuart said this was not punishment for last weekend's diabolical 54-18 loss to Manly, rather a chance for the pair to improve their match fitness.
He has vigorously denied a media report Papalii had been out on the town in the early hours of the morning before last weekend's embarrassing loss to Manly.
Stuart labelled the report ''100 per cent incorrect'' and said Papalii had requested to play for Souths Logan after he was dropped from the Australian Kangaroos team to face New Zealand.
It comes after Papalii spoke to Sheens and Meninga about what he needs to do to get back to his best.
"He asked to play second grade because he wants to get more minutes to get more match fitness,'' Stuart said.
''I thought it was very courageous of the young fella to say it to me.
''It shows me how much he cares about his football.
"He needs to lose some weight and he knows why his form is down.
"I give the guy a lot of credit for doing extras and wanting to work at getting back to his best playing weight.''
Papalii has previously said Stuart gave him a rev-up after he returned from the World Cup and reported for pre-season training overweight. He also suffered an ankle injury early in the season, which sidelined him for three matches and has hindered his training.
The 23-year-old was in the Australian side which won the World Cup. Stuart said the late finish of that tournament and ensuing short preparation time for the NRL season had caused him and other players to come back out of shape.
"Like 50 per cent of the players at the World Cup, they come back unfit,'' Stuart said.
"They want their six weeks off and they get two to three weeks of preparation before the season starts.
''That's why there's a major hangover for a number of players who aren't at their best at the moment.
"The timing and the scheduling – the NRL competition isn't put at the forefront of anything.''
Stuart said Boyd would be given a run with the Mounties to improve his conditioning after playing as part of a five-prop rotation in the NRL side.
The Raiders players not on representative duty trained on Wednesday before being awarded a three-day weekend.
They will report back to training on Monday to start preparation for next Saturday's match against the New Zealand Warriors in Auckland.
Raiders fullback Anthony Milford will play in the under-20s Origin match for Queensland on Saturday night.
Stuart said Milford had been under a lot of pressure since returning from a starring performance for Samoa at the World Cup. Raiders fans hope the young sensation will change his mind and, instead of joining the Brisbane Broncos next year, stay in Canberra.
''Everyone seems to forget that Anthony is 19,'' Stuart said.
"He's had a lot of weight on his mind in regards to World Cup and a lot of scrutiny in regards to the decisions he has to make.
''I feel sorry for him because he's only a young boy."