Canberra Raiders' Josh Papalii wasn't going to play Rugby League World Cup until Samoa call
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Canberra Raiders' Josh Papalii wasn't going to play Rugby League World Cup until Samoa call

Josh Papalii wasn't going to play in the World Cup, but he wanted to honour his late grandfather by pulling on the Samoa jersey for the first time.

Papalii was on the verge of joining the Prime Minister's XIII a month ago, ready to stake a claim for a spot in Mal Meninga's Australian squad when his grandfather died.

Raiders forward Josh Papalii was going to miss the World Cup.

Raiders forward Josh Papalii was going to miss the World Cup.Credit:Craig Golding

The softly spoken Canberra Raider pulled out of the PM's game against Papua New Guinea to spend time with family and had given up on his World Cup dream.

But he decided to accept Samoa coach Matt Parish's invitation to wear the blue jersey with pride.

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Papalii will be one of three Raiders players to run out for Toa Samoa in their World Cup opener against New Zealand in Auckland on Saturday night, along with Junior Paulo and Joey Leilua.

"It was one of the reasons why I put my hand up. To be honest I wasn't going to play in the World Cup, but it was one of the reasons why," Papalii said.

"It was a hard time for the family, but with stuff like that you've just got to move on as fast as you can."

While Samoa are big outsiders to win the World Cup, with Australia odds-on favourites, Papalii thought the Pacific nation was capable of doing something "special".

A win over New Zealand would guarantee them a spot in the quarter-finals as they look to progress past their group, which also contains Scotland and a bolstered Tonga.

Along with the powerful Raiders trio, Toa Samoa also boast captain Frank Pritchard in their big forward pack coming up against a depleted Kiwi one without Jason Taumalolo, Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor.

But Papalii was excited about playing with some of the younger Samoans and he felt flying under the radar would be a positive thing.

"There's a few young fellas here in their first camp for Samoa and it's just exciting to be a part of," he said.

"I definitely think we can do something special with these boys and hopefully we can do that.

"I'm pretty confident in what we have here. I know a lot of the focus has been on other teams and that's probably a good thing for us as well.

"We're just looking forward to the challenge and hopefully we can win a few games before the finals."

Papalii has played nine Tests for Australia since making his debut against Fiji at the last World Cup in 2013 and he's made the same number of State of Origin appearances for Queensland as well.

He'd established himself in both squads, but missed out on the final Anzac Test in Canberra in May after pleading guilty to drink driving.

The 25-year-old was then left out of the Kangaroos World Cup squad before putting his hand up for Samoa.

Papalii wasn't aiming for a Kangaroos recall in the future and was simply focused on the World Cup.

"I'm not looking that far ahead. I'm focused on the jersey I have and that's the way I like to keep it," he said.

He'll use the World Cup as a springboard and hopes to take some "good form" into the 2018 NRL season.

Papalii backed the rule change that allowed him to switch between Australia and Samoa.

"It had to happen. A lot of players do miss out on Australia and New Zealand if we didn't have that rule and concept," said.

"That would've helped out the second-tier teams as well."

David Polkinghorne covers the Canberra Raiders, local rugby league, Canberra Cavalry, racing and cycling, along with every other sport, for The Canberra Times.