Josh Papalii during a raiders training session at ActewAGL Park. Photo: Jay Cronan
Cronulla's star recruit Luke Lewis has backed Canberra forward Josh Papalii's decision to sign a rich deal with Parramatta, saying players are potentially ''one tackle away from flipping burgers''.
When at Penrith in 2008, Lewis reneged on a verbal agreement to join Souths, citing family reasons for signing a new four-year deal with the Panthers.
It was the year the NRL introduced its rule whereby a player wishing to join another club has until round 13 to sign the contract. The law is designed to give the incumbent a chance for retention, and the Raiders are hopeful they can use it to their advantage with Papalii.
Luke Lewis. Photo: Jonathan Carroll
Papalii's case is different, given he signed a contract with the Eels a fortnight ago.
''It's a very hard situation to be in. As a player, what Papalii is doing I think you have to do,'' Lewis said.
''While you're playing good footy you want to sign a good contract at the time so you know what you're doing, where you're going and what you're future holds.
''It will be forgotten after a while, everyone moves on and people will come in and do the job that he would do. It's just something you have to put up with for a while, it's very tough, but you've got your mates you play with and they'll stick by you.''
Lewis said the rule didn't need to be changed, despite it attracting heavy criticism from some quarters. The Raiders will begin talks with third-party sponsors on Monday in a last-ditch attempt to keep Papalii, who will be paid about $500,000 a year at the Eels.
''I don't think so, everything the way it's set up is pretty good,'' Lewis said. ''As a player you're only one tackle away from flipping burgers, and Papalii's playing really good footy at the moment.
''If you can sign a contract today that's going to secure you for three to four years, the security's there and you can start preparing for those years of your life.''
He has no doubt Papalii will show due commitment to the Raiders this season, despite knowing his future lies elsewhere.
''I don't know Papalii at all, but I do know he's a competitor and he won't let Canberra down for the time he's there,'' Lewis said.
''I know they'd be a very competitive bunch of blokes out there [Canberra], and they'd want to win everything, whether it's at training or in a game.
''Watching him play, I know he's definitely [going to give] 100 per cent all year and do the right thing by [Raiders coach] David Furner.''
Last season Tigers utility Tim Moltzen backed out of a deal with St George-Illawarra using the round-13 clause.
Five years ago, current Panthers back-rower Nathan Smith signed with Canberra, but also eventually opted to stay put.
Lewis said Papalii would have every intention of going out on a high, and rates the Raiders as dark horses for the premiership.
''Canberra are going to be hard to beat this year, in my opinion,'' the former Origin player said.
''It's a tough one, they could go through and win the grand final and [then] he has to leave at the end of the year.
''Whoever the player is has to make that decision, but I know for a fact he'll definitely do the right thing by his club, and his teammates as well.''