More on the horizon as Josh Papalii wins Meninga medal
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More on the horizon as Josh Papalii wins Meninga medal

As Mal Meninga draped a medal named in his honour around Josh Papalii's neck, many wondered if the next thing he hands the Canberra Raiders star will be an Australian Kangaroos jersey.

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart says Papalii has done enough to reclaim his Kangaroos spot after capping off a stellar season with a Meninga Medal triumph as the Green Machine's player of the year.

Josh Papalii has claimed his second Meninga Medal.

Josh Papalii has claimed his second Meninga Medal.

Photo: Karleen Minney

Papalii (25 votes) finished well clear of runners-up Joe Tapine and Elliott Whitehead, both on 17 votes, with Jack Wighton (13), Nick Cotric and Jordan Rapana (11 each) rounding out the top six.

It is Papalii's second Meninga Medal in three years after he split the honours with star hooker Josh Hodgson in 2016, suggesting an axing to reserve grade in April was the perfect tonic for the 26-year-old to find a new level.

Papalii admits his demotion to reserve grade earlier this year was the right call and he has since rediscovered the spark in his career that ultimately led to him signing a four-year contract extension.

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A return to the Australian line-up for clashes against New Zealand and Tonga beckons after he donned Samoan colours in last year's World Cup.

"For me personally, he would make Mal’s squad, and he’s certainly had a year to show that he is certainly up to it, especially with his State of Origin form, I thought he was one of the best forwards for Queensland," Stuart said.

"Josh is a guy that has turned into a senior player now and is taking his role a lot more seriously, and his actions are evident to that.

"As a younger guy Josh could just get there on ability, but now Josh has to work hard to keep his playing weight down, he’s got to work hard off-field to keep his body in shape in regards to the way he plays because he plays a physical game of football and he’s always got knocks and bumps.

"He looks after himself well and he has had a season to remember in regards to such a prestigious award.

"It’s certainly the best season and most consistent Josh has performed week in and week out of the seasons I’ve been here.

Ricky Stuart couldn't find a better role model than Nick Cotric.

Ricky Stuart couldn't find a better role model than Nick Cotric.

Photo: NRL Imagery

"I think a lot of that has come down to maturity and knowing what his best preparation is and it is certainly showing in his performance each week."

Canberra winger Nick Cotric collected his second trophy in as many years in first grade when he claimed the coaches award, a year after winning the rookie of the year gong, and it's not hard to see why.

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"He’s a wonderful player to coach, and he is probably one of the greatest role models for any young player that wants to come through and make it at the next level of their football career," Stuart said.

"Everything you ask of Nick, he does with a smile and enthusiasm, and he knows he is lucky to be an NRL player. There’s a lot of other players out there that could take a leaf out of his book in regards to seeing how fortunate he is to have such a wonderful job."

The rookie of the year award went to rising forward Emre Guler this time around after he impressed in his three NRL matches against finals-bound opponents to close the season.

Stuart says holding Guler back for his NRL debut was for his own good and now he is convinced he can be a regular first-grader next season.

"I said it in our captain’s run leading into his debut game against Souths, that this kid just doesn’t look out of place," Stuart said.

"Then playing against three really tough forward packs in Souths, Roosters and Warriors, was going to be a really good challenge for him. He just didn’t look out of place and handled it very well."

2018 MENINGA MEDAL WINNERS

Meninga Medal – Josh Papalii

Rookie of the Year – Emre Guler

NRL Coaches Award – Nick Cotric

Fred Daly Memorial Clubman of the Year – Michael Oldfield

Geoff Caldwell Memorial Career and Education Award – Joe Tapine

Gordon McLucas Memorial Junior Representative Player of the Year – Jack Murchie

Meninga Medal Top Six Vote Tally

25 – Josh Papalii

17 – Joe Tapine

17 – Elliott Whitehead

13 – Jack Wighton

11 – Nick Cotric

11 – Jordan Rapana