Josh Papalii props up Raiders pack for Shannon Boyd showdown

Canberra Raiders star Josh Papalii will line up in the front-row for the first time in four years as he looks to deliver on added expectation in a showdown with Shannon Boyd.

Papalii will line up against the former Green Machine heavyweight when the Raiders meet the Gold Coast Titans in their NRL season opener on Sunday.

Josh Papalii will line up in the front row for the Raiders. Photo: Raiders Media

Josh Papalii will line up in the front row for the Raiders. Photo: Raiders Media

Both have joked they will be steering clear of any major collisions but Raiders halfback Aidan Sezer laughs he mightn't be so lucky - "[Boyd] will probably run across the field to pick me out".

Realistically, the Raiders forward pack is bracing for a major test after losing heavyweight duo Boyd and Junior Paulo over the off-season with coach Ricky Stuart turning to Papalii and Sia Soliola to fill the void up front.

Papalii signed a four-year contract extension with Canberra last year while Boyd was snapped up on a big money deal by the Titans. They won't have to wait long to rip the band-aid off and see which side came up trumps.

"I don’t think blue suits him to be honest, the Titans have a tighter jersey to Canberra," Papalii said.

"It will be really emotional playing Boydy, coming through the SG Ball and under 20s side with Shannon, and then playing NRL together. I hope he does well, but hopefully we get the win.

"A lot of the boys are just wanting to play a bit of footy this time of the season. Hopefully we can get off to a good start on Sunday.

"They’re a bigger pack now with Shannon Boyd being in the forwards now. He was a massive loss to the Raiders, but we’ve got some young boys [including potential debutant Corey Horsburgh] coming through now and hopefully they can do the job.

"It’s a massive challenge for our forward pack, not being as big as previous years. In saying that, we have picked up some international players in [John Bateman] and [Ryan Sutton] from England. I can’t wait to go out there and watch the boys play in the lime green jersey and hopefully do well."

Josh Papalii and Shannon Boyd won't be linking up like this anytime soon. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

Josh Papalii and Shannon Boyd won't be linking up like this anytime soon. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

Papalii is entering his ninth season at the top level, and with his experience and a long-term contract extension comes the duty for the 26-year-old to avoid the mistakes of the past.

The Queensland State of Origin enforcer is determined to avoid the sluggish start that saw him dropped to reserve grade in the opening rounds last season, although the reality check helped him storm to a Meninga Medal triumph.

"I came ready to go for day one of pre-season, I’ve had my ups and downs with coming back and not being shape," Papalii said.

"This one was a bit different, a bit challenging, a lot more running this year. I’m just ready to go. The excitement is definitely there.

"It’s more expectation, you’ve got to deliver on your performance now instead of trying to prove to the club that you need to stay here. I signed a long-term contract last year, and now it’s just about delivering on that."

It is no secret delivering on that means helping the Raiders back to the finals after two years in the wilderness.

Soliola admits there is a hint of jealousy washing over the Green Machine when the finals roll around and they are watching from afar.

"That’s probably something that put a bit of fire in the belly for us, missing out in the past couple of years," Soliola said.

"Understanding the position we were at, the guys and the group we had, and the belief we had within the group. This is going to come into this season in terms of where and what we want to strive for."

NRL ROUND ONE

Sunday: Gold Coast Titans v Canberra Raiders at Gold Coast, 6.10pm. TV time: Live on Fox Sports.

Raiders squad: 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, 2. Nick Cotric, 3. Jarrod Croker (C), 4. Joey Leilua, 5. Bailey Simonsson, 6. Jack Wighton, 7. Aidan Sezer, 8. Josh Papalii, 9. Josh Hodgson (C), 10. Sia Soliola, 11. Joe Tapine, 12. Elliott Whitehead, 13. John Bateman. Interchange: 14. Siliva Havili, 15. Ryan Sutton, 16. Dunamis Lui, 17. Corey Horsburgh. Extended bench: 18. Sam Williams, 19. Jack Murchie, 20. Luke Bateman, 21. JJ Collins.

This story Josh Papalii props up Raiders pack for Shannon Boyd showdown first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.