Rugby League

Josh Papalii's Maroon jersey his to lose as Walters vows to continue loyalty

Queensland coach Kevin Walters says Josh Papalii's Maroons jersey is his to lose after his outstanding Origin return last year, vowing to maintain the loyalty shown to players by predecessor Mal Meninga. 

Josh Papalii celebrates after his try for Queensland in Origin III this year.
Josh Papalii celebrates after his try for Queensland in Origin III this year.  Photo: Bradley Kanaris

Walters also backed Papalii's Canberra Raiders teammate Edrick Lee to press for a debut, admitting the winger came desperately close to a shock call-up for Origin III this year. 

Overlooked for the first two games after a quiet showing in the final Origin in 2014, Papalii made the most of his recall with a strong display in Queensland's 52-6 win, including a first half try. 

The 23-year-old began the season slowly at prop for Canberra, but flourished once he returned to the back row. 

After Josh McGuire was forced out by injury, Papalii edged out Sydney Roosters youngster Dylan Napa for the final bench spot and Walters said he's "right in the forefront" of his plans. 

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"I'm not sure how we're going to use him, but we certainly will be using him," Walters said. 

"In what position or how, it depends on how he goes at the Raiders.

"That [loyalty] is the way it's always been with Mal and I will continue that thought process. 

"His performance in game three, he has a lot to offer and it's important for Josh he gets it right for the Raiders initially, and gets off to a great start to the season.

"Josh had a great game three and if he can reproduce that form, no doubt he'll be wearing the Maroon jersey again." 

Walters said Papalii's versatility will work in his favour when it comes to selection. 

"I like his versatility for Queensland, he can play through the middle as well as the edge," Walters said. 

"He got that body frame which is quite dangerous wherever he plays. It's a good bonus he's got there, it gives some good flexibility and balance to the side."

Queensland's experienced pack answered criticism they were getting too old in emphatic fashion in Origin III, the largest win in series history. 

Last year's player of the series Corey Parker is 33, while Nate Myles, Matt Scott and Sam Thaiday all turn 30 mid next season. 

All have proven they have plenty left in the tank, but Walters said it's important to blood youngsters like Papalii, McGuire and Napa to prepare for the rebuild. 

"We'll look at that when it gets to us, but certainly next year anyway it'll be the same squad coming through for the Maroons," he said. 

"But it's important we build that cycle, because we don't have as many players to choose from as NSW."

Winger Lee was brought into Origin III camp as cover for Darius Boyd and Greg Inglis, who both overcame injury to play. 

"I remember he was looking like getting a game at one stage but fortunately for Queensland and unfortunately for Edrick, both players came through," Walters said. 

"I'm sure Edrick will get his chance one day if he continues to do well for the Raiders. His height, size and strength are all qualities you need."

NSW coach Laurie Daley resisted calls for Blake Austin to debut this year after a fantastic first season at Canberra where he was named Dally M five eighth of the year. 

Austin said last month a Blues jumper would be a goal for him this season, but Walters was coy when asked if his former Raiders teammate Laurie Daley should pick him. 

"I'm not going to make any suggestions for NSW, but he had a great season," Walters said. 

"I'm sure Laurie feels the same way I do, you've got to be playing well for your respective club. 

"He did that this year and it's up to Blake, he was pretty close [to selection] from all reports."