Josh Papalii. Photo: Nick de Bruin
RAIDERS forward Josh Papalii is comforted incoming Canberra coach Ricky Stuart finally understands why he, too, turned his back on Parramatta this year - family comes first.
It is why Papalii says the Raiders should respect Anthony Milford's decision on where the rookie sensation prefers to play next season.
Stuart said extended family support in Canberra, particularly for his daughter Emma, who is autistic, was one of the main reasons he controversially quit the Eels for the Raiders.
New Raiders coach Ricky Stuart. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
Papalii was under intense scrutiny earlier this year, too, when he reneged on a three-year $1 million deal with Stuart and the Eels to stay in Canberra.
Papalii and Stuart have not spoken since and won't get the chance to meet when the new coach arrives in Canberra on Sunday, Papalii having left for holidays in Brisbane.
But Papalii said he was comforted by Stuart's recent comments that he understood why the 21-year-old had backflipped on his decision to go to Parramatta.
''There's a lot of these types of scenarios and I find myself in one now,'' Stuart said.
Papalii remains unrepentant about his choice to stay. ''To be honest, I really don't care what people say, family comes first and I'll do whatever to take care of my family,'' he said.
Papalii admitted he was disappointed the Raiders had overlooked interim coach Andrew Dunemann, but said he would support Stuart's appointment.
''We lost a great leader and coach in Dunemann, I knew all the boys were happy with him there. I guess we'll just have to wait and see,'' Papalii said. ''It's pretty awesome, a legend comes back and coaches the team he's played for.''
Papalii has been a mentor for Milford in Canberra; Papalii's family have welcomed the Brisbane junior into their home.
As Milford determines whether to pursue a release from the Raiders to rejoin family and his sick father, Halo, in Brisbane, Papalii urged Canberra to support his ultimate decision.
''All the boys want to see him stay but he's in the same situation as me, if he has to go, he has to go,'' Papalii said. ''He's having troubles with his old man, he's not at the strongest point at the moment and if I put myself in Tony's shoes, I would think about staying [in Brisbane]. But that's his decision.
''I'm looking forward to watching him over the next few years and hopefully playing beside him.
''There will never be another Tony Milford that comes around, it's just like Israel [Folau] and [Greg] Inglis, Tony's up there.''
It's been a big year for Papalii, who shot to NRL notoriety with a dominant performance against Cronulla Sharks enforcer Paul Gallen in last year's finals.
He also controversially switched allegiance from New Zealand to Australia, making his State of Origin debut for Queensland.
Having said sorry to teammates for a boozy night out in New Zealand last month, 48 hours before a crucial match against the Warriors, Papalii also issued a public apology. Papalii and Milford broke team rules to go out drinking and face possible sanctions.
Papalii would not detail private issues but, like Milford, admitted he had not been coping with personal pressure.
Dunemann indicated he would look at introducing welfare-counselling sessions for players in the next pre-season, before his sudden sacking on Friday.
''I can promise it won't happen again,'' Papalii said. ''That wasn't in my character to do that but it's happened and I'm very sorry to fans, my family, the players and coaching staff.''
Papalii has been named in the Kangaroos train-on squad but is also determined to play for Samoa at this year's World Cup if he is not selected.
''I'd love to play for Samoa, but I would never turn down the chance to wear green and gold for Australia.''