Papalii comes back in top shape but Raiders expect worse with Rapana
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Papalii comes back in top shape but Raiders expect worse with Rapana

Married life obviously suits Josh Papalii, with the Canberra Raiders star returning for pre-season well under his targets.

But the Green Machine are bracing for bad news with gun winger Jordan Rapana (shoulder) expected to undergo surgery after arriving back in Canberra on Thursday.

Raiders powerhouse Josh Papalii has come back in great shape.

Raiders powerhouse Josh Papalii has come back in great shape. Credit:Raiders Media

Rapana will see a surgeon on Friday with it likely he'll need to have a shoulder reconstruction after dislocating it playing for New Zealand against England last weekend.

It's thought to be a similar problem to what young half Ata Hingano suffered playing for Tonga against Australia last month, with Raiders chief executive Don Furner investigating with the NRL whether he can take advantage of the Josh Hodgson rule to get salary cap relief for the injured duo.

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On a positive note, Raiders head of physical performance Nigel Ashley-Jones was happy with the way his players returned from their holidays, especially newly-wed Papalii.

It's a far cry from last year when Ashley-Jones was pulling his hair out following the World Cup when the Raiders' Samoan players came back overweight.

"They've come back pretty good. Special mention to Josh Papalii, he came back well under his targets, it's a credit to him," he said.

"There's the odd one that we're not happy with, but as a group [very happy].

"This time last year we were pulling our hair out after the World Cup, the way they came back, but [this year] we've got a good start. The young blokes especially."

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The Raiders have revamped their coaching structure in addition to the arrival of Andrew McFadden to replace former assistant coach Mick Crawley, and Ash Barnes appointed under-20s coach.

Peter Marrapodi has taken over the Mounties reins from Ryan Carr, while Travis Ronaldson and Tom Christian have joined Ashley-Jones' department.

The latter two have dual roles, with Ronaldson the new strength and power coach as well as dietitian, and Christian the sports scientist and also joining the physiotherapist ranks.

Ronaldson has worked for the Melbourne Storm and Gold Coast Titans, and has extensive experience in the AFL with the Western Bulldogs and Gold Coast Suns.

A complete review of the Raiders' football department is under way, with the results to be presented to the board at a special meeting in the coming weeks.

With the contracts of several of the coaching staff expiring, Ashley-Jones said the reasons for the revamp were two-fold.

Firstly, it was a way to freshen the club up, given a number of players have been with the Raiders for several years.

Secondly, getting a jump on NRL plans to introduce new regulations on qualifications required within NRL clubs - such as having fully qualified dietitians instead of nutritionists and new requirements around sports scientists in the wake of the Essendon and Cronulla scandals.

"Because the squad hasn't turned over a lot we just needed to freshen things up a little bit," Ashley-Jones said.

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"The NRL have brought in a few rules in regards to regulations, especially in the sports science area and the dietitian side, so we wanted to try and get ahead of that before it became policy - they're talking about 2020.

"The staff that have left I can't speak more highly about. They gave their all for the club."

Ashley-Jones said they're sick of long pre-seasons and are desperate to get back to playing finals football.

They've tweaked this pre-season to try and make that happen.

"No one wants these long pre-seasons, we're already into week two and we just want to play semi-final football," he said.

"All of the staff, the players, everyone wants to win the comp and when you don't do it and you come back early it's another reminder you didn't do it.

"How we do things is our big focus for 2019. We haven't got the biggest squad in the comp, but it's about getting every little drop of talent, of physicality ... to give us the best chance of being successful."

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