Eels get in early to sign Raider Papalii
Josh Papalii has waved goodbye to the Raiders and will join the Eels in 2014. Photo: Colleen Petch
The Canberra Raiders have lost the battle to retain Josh Papalii, with reports the hard-hitting forward has signed a lucrative deal with Parramatta.
Papalii confirmed on Friday night in a Parramatta press release that he would be leaving Canberra.
''The times I have spent with the Canberra Raiders have been the best of my life. The club and the fans have been so good to me and my family and I will always be grateful,'' Papalii said.
Josh Papalii at Raiders training on Friday. Photo: Colleen Petch
''Heading to Parramatta next season is a new and exciting challenge, they are a club on the rise and I am looking forward to being a part of what Ricky Stuart and the team up there are doing. My first priority though is playing good footy for the Raiders this year and going out on a high.''
New Parramatta coach and Raiders legend Ricky Stuart was happy to finally have a key signing under his belt.
''Josh is an outstanding young footballer and will bring with him all the attributes we are looking for in a player at the Parramatta Eels. We are a club building for the future and signing a young man of Josh's ability represents that,'' Stuart said.
It was revealed by the Raiders chief executive Don Furner on Friday night that Papalii may have signed a contract with the Eels up to two weeks ago.
However, the Raiders were only informed when they met Papalii's manager Col Davis on Tuesday, when they intended to table their final offer.
Channel Nine news reported on Friday night that the Eels had been successful with their pursuit of the 20-year-old enforcer.
However, the Eels cannot register Papalii's contract with the NRL, believed to be a three-year, $1 million deal, until midway through the 2013 season.
Furner said on Friday night he initially believed Papalii had only signed a letter of intent, not a contract.
However, Raiders management are of the belief Papalii has had second thoughts since signing the contract, and wants to stay in Canberra.
''It was news to me until his manager told me the other night [Tuesday],'' Furner said.
''Whether he's signed anything or not won't stop our determination to keep him.
''We're aware of the rule and we have every intention of exploiting it.''
Parramatta is desperate to sign a big-name player, having already missed out on James Tamou, Matt Scott, Greg Bird, Michael Jennings and Israel Folau.
The round 13 rule worked against the Raiders in 2008, when they signed Penrith back-rower Nathan Smith, who later decided to stay at the Panthers.
Papalii's departure from the Raiders at the end of this season would be a major blow to the Green Machine.
The Raiders recruited Papalii from Brisbane through their association with Souths Logan and relocated him to play in their SG Ball team.
He made his first-grade debut in 2011, becoming a regular fixture in the starting side.
His aggressive play and bone-crunching hits came to prominence when he shut down NSW captain Paul Gallen in last year's finals series.
New Zealand-born Papalii was in a tug-of-war over his international eligibility and has elected to make himself available for Queensland.