Queensland has firmed as favourite to beat New Zealand in their battle over Josh Papalii, with the Canberra Raiders star tipped to pledge his allegiance to the Maroons by as soon as Monday.
Sources close to Papalii said their gut feel was the back rower will side with Queensland, despite being named in New Zealand’s train-on squad for next month’s Test against Australia in Townsville.
Having established himself as one of the best young forwards in the game this year, Papalii has agonised over the decision the past few days.
The 20-year-old was born in Auckland, but played all his junior football with Souths Logan, traditionally a fertile breeding ground for the Raiders.
Raiders boss Don Furner met with Papalii on Thursday last week, and the club is looking to extend his current contract which expires at the end of next year.
‘‘He didn’t leave [New Zealand] at 16 like a Benji Marshall or a [Sam] Kasiano, he left at six,’’ Furner said.
‘‘He didn’t even know what rugby league was when he went to Souths Logan, he wanted to play rugby union, but the closest club played rugby league.’’
‘‘The reality is if he stayed in New Zealand, he probably would have played rugby union.’’
Papalii’s boyhood idol is Ruben Wiki, and the New Zealand and Raiders great has forged a strong bond with Papalii.
But he also grew up idolising Queensland’s Origin stars, including current coach Mal Meninga.
Meanwhile, Canberra’s Toyota Cup side received a massive boost ahead of Sunday’s grand final against West Tigers, with prop Shannon Boyd avoiding suspension for a high tackle.
The 125kg giant was placed on report for a careless high tackle on Dragons halfback Jared Allen in the Raiders’ 44-16 preliminary final win on Sunday.
Boyd has 27 carryover points, but his early guilty plea and subsequent 67-point penalty means he hasn’t accrued the 100 points required for a one-game suspension.
The Cowra junior was influential in Sunday’s win, and coach Andrew Dunemann said his presence is crucial if the Tigers attempt to beat the Raiders up the middle as expected.
‘‘It might be the biggest game he ever gets to play in, it was the right decision,’’ Dunemann said yesterday.
‘‘He [Allen] got straight up and played the ball after it, I think he just laid down to get the penalty to be honest.
‘‘Obviously the people who do the review understand it’s a grand final, they take that into consideration and use a common sense approach I think.’’
The Raiders have been beaten convincingly twice by the Tigers this year, and Dunemann placed the onus on the forwards to set the platform again.
Canberra is searching for its second Toyota Cup title after it won the 2008 premiership in the competition’s inaugural season.
‘‘That’s what it comes down to, if we hold our own in the middle we’ve got some good attack on the edges,’’ Dunemann said.
‘‘We don’t have the attacking flair in the middle that other teams have, but we’ve got some grafters and grindes who turn up and do the job.
‘‘Boydy’s been a massive part of our team, him and [fellow starting prop] Jeff Lynch have been outstanding for us all year.’’