Rugby League


Helping Canberra Raiders avoid NRL wooden spoon is Josh Papalii's focus, not Origin selection

Canberra Raiders star Josh Papalii has vowed to do whatever it takes to help the club to avoid the embarrassment of "winning" its first wooden spoon in 32 years after any finals hopes evaporated at Campbelltown on Saturday night. 

The Raiders' 19-18 loss to Wests Tigers means any chance of playing in September is gone. Canberra (15th, 10 points) has won just four of 15 games this season. 

Canberra has not finished last since its inaugural 1982 campaign, when it won four matches, and is now equal last on the table. 

It is locked in a wooden-spoon dogfight with Cronulla (16th, 10 points) and Newcastle (14, ten points) after the Knights upset Parramatta 16-10 on Sunday. The team goes on the road for games against Gold Coast and Melbourne after this week's bye. 

Papalii returned early from an ankle injury against the Tigers, running for 104 metres and setting up one of winger Brenko Lee's two first-half tries. 

It was his final chance to show Queensland selectors he deserved a recall after he missed the Origin II loss to NSW because of his injury. 


Incumbent Maroons back-rower Chris McQueen looks certain to be ruled out of Wednesday week's dead rubber after hurting his ankle in Souths' 20-18 loss to North Queensland on Saturday night. This could open the door for Papalii to be recalled when the team is named on Tuesday. 

Papalii insisted Origin re-selection is the furthest thing from his mind. His sole focus is on helping to lift Canberra out of the doldrums. 

"Obviously no club wants to get the wooden spoon,'' Papalii said. 

"Of course, we don't want to sit on the bottom of the table at the end of the year, if it's not enough motivation for us [it should be].

"We definitely don't train to come last and we'll be looking for a big one against the Titans.

"The results and how we're sitting on the table don't show how hard we've been working. It's disappointing to see.''

Papalii has been plagued by his ankle problem for much of this season, but showed signs against the Tigers he is ready to rediscover the form that catapulted him onto the representative scene last year. 

"I'd have to say it's probably the best game I've played this year,'' he said. 

"No one wants to play at 80 per cent [fitness]. Our goal was to come back for the Titans game, but I came back a week early and it pulled up fine. 

"I'm definitely not thinking about Origin, I just wanted to help the boys out in Canberra. 

"It was hard to watch them lose to the Bulldogs [last week] and we couldn't do it [against the Tigers], but there were a few positives.''

One of those was the emergence of Lee, who scored a brilliant individual try with a chip and chase. 

Papalii is confident Brenko Lee and cousin Edrick Lee, who is out for the season with injury, can fill the void left by the departed Josh Dugan, Sandor Earl and Blake Ferguson. 

" 'Fergo' and 'Dor' [Earl] were well mssed when they left and they're big shoes to fill, but we've got the players there to stand up in those positions and do the job,'' he said. 

Papalii added he felt for Raiders centre Jack Wighton, who appears out of contention for a NSW Origin debut after breaking his thumb against the Tigers. 

He will have scans on Monday.

"We were all disappointed for the loss and for Jack," Papalii said. "He could have been named in the NSW squad but he's still young [Wighton is 21] and he'll probably be in there the next few years.''

Meanwhile, Raiders hooker Kurt Baptiste has been named in the Queensland Residents team to take on a NSW Cup representative side in a curtain raiser to Origin III at Suncorp Stadium on July 9.