Josh Papalii has backed the Raiders forward pack to step up in his absence after the prop was named in Billy Slater's Queensland State of Origin squad to take on NSW in the series opener in Sydney on Wednesday, June 8.
Papalii was quickly en route to Brisbane to join Maroons camp shortly after Sunday afternoon's 28-20 defeat against the Parramatta Eels at Canberra Stadium, with Raiders teammate Jack Wighton also headed to Sydney for Blues camp.
"It's a privilege and an honour [to play for the Maroons]," Papalii said of his Maroons selection. "I'll probably watch this [Eels] game back and see what I can improve on."
It will be the Papalii's 10th consecutive year selected in the Queensland Origin side as the Maroons compete to win back the shield after NSW's triumph in the 2021 series.
"I'm capable of doing my job. I feel like I can still offer a bit there in the middle," Papalii said.
The 30-year-old Raiders veteran was confident in the depth in Canberra to pick up the slack while he's with the Queensland squad too, led by New Zealand's Joe Tapine.
"We've got that depth to cover all spots. We're going well at the moment, matching it with the top teams," Papalii said.
"It's hard not to follow a bloke like Tapine. He's in his prime at the moment. It's just crazy how good he's going and for someone still fairly young, he's dominating the middle.
"All that hard work he's put in it'll be hard for the boys not to follow him."
Papalii will line up against a familiar face in the Blues with Wighton also named to play Origin for NSW and given the nod to be starting centre ahead of Penrith's Stephen Crichton.
"It's awesome. It's always a huge honour," Wighton said before a making a mad dash to Coogee on Sunday evening. "It's one of the pinnacles of our game and I'm looking forward to getting to meet all the boys and getting to know them."
Wighton said he had no hint before Sunday that Blues coach Brad Fittler would name him in the 22-man NSW Origin squad, only finding out he'd been included post-game from Canberra coach Ricky Stuart.
"[I heard] nothing. I found out [I was named] when the coach just announced it [in the locker room]. It was all fresh to me," Wighton said after the Raiders' defeat by Parramatta.
The five-eighth threw everything at the Eels, but said Origin selection was not on his mind at all in the game.
"That's just what I try and bring to the team. I've always said in the lead-up, it's all about what you do here if you're going to get picked," Wighton said.
"I've been having fun playing with the boys and giving it my all. That's all I can do."
The talk in the lead-up to the Blues announcement pitted Wighton in a battle for the No.14 role with Cronulla's Nicho Hynes. However on Monday morning Fittler revealed Wighton was a shock selection as starting centre when confirming his 17, leaving Hynes as 18th man.
"The big thing with Jack is he has played in that position for us a few times and done a good job," Fittler told reporters on Monday.
"His last two games he has looked fast and fresh and broke the line a lot.
"His kicking game has been impressive. Having that style of play with his focus ... That was a huge part of the decision."
Wighton will have towering Roosters winger Daniel Tupou outside him and James Tedesco will skipper the team.
Raiders coach Stuart expressed his pride in Wighton and Josh Papalii after their Origin selection.
Though he will lose two of his top players during that Origin period, Stuart said it was a testament to the quality that is at the Raiders and he is hopeful they will return to the NRL with a skip in their step.
"That's great. I'd love to have eight or 10 Origin players because that's what makes your football team, having those players there," Stuart said.
"They'll make our job harder next week not having them.
"But I've always said representative players go away and come back better players and they're better for your team."
Queensland Maroons Squad: Kalyn Ponga (Newcastle Knights), Selwyn Cobbo (Brisbane Broncos), Valentine Holmes (North Queensland Cowboys), Dane Gagai (Newcastle Knights), Xavier Coates (Melbourne Storm), Cameron Munster (Melbourne Storm), Daly Cherry-Evans (Manly Sea Eagles), Tino Fa'asuamaleaui (Gold Coast Titans), Ben Hunt (St George Illawarra Dragons), Josh Papalii (Canberra Raiders), Kurt Capewell (Brisbane Broncos), Felise Kaufusi (Melbourne Storm), Reuben Cotter (North Queensland Cowboys), Harry Grant (Melbourne Storm), Lindsay Collins (Sydney Roosters), Patrick Carrigan (Brisbane Broncos), Jeremiah Nanai (North Queensland Cowboys), Tom Dearden (North Queensland Cowboys), Jai Arrow (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Thomas Flegler (Brisbane Broncos), Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow (North Queensland Cowboys), Murray Taulagi (North Queensland Cowboys).
NSW Blues Squad: Reagan Campbell-Gillard (Parramatta Eels), Nathan Cleary (Penrith Panthers), Damien Cook (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Stephen Crichton (Penrith Panthers), Tyson Frizell (Newcastle Knights), Payne Haas (Brisbane Broncos), Nicho Hynes (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks), Apisai Koroisau (Penrith Panthers), Jarome Luai (Penrith Panthers), Junior Paulo (Parramatta Eels), Liam Martin (Penrith Panthers), Ryan Matterson (Parramatta Eels), Cameron Murray (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Jacob Saifiti (Newcastle Knights), Tariq Sims (St George Illawarra Dragons), Kotoni Staggs (Brisbane Broncos), Joseph Suaalii (Sydney Roosters), James Tedesco (c) (Sydney Roosters), Brian To'o (Penrith Panthers), Daniel Tupou (Sydney Roosters), Jack Wighton (Canberra Raiders), Isaah Yeo (Penrith Panthers).
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