The Canberra Raiders are confident of retaining Josh Papali'i even though the veteran prop is yet to decide his playing future.
The 31-year-old is contracted for next season and has an option to extend that into 2025 if he plays 75 per cent of games across the 2023 and 2024 NRL campaigns.
Papali'i is the biggest name among a large group of Raiders players who can now negotiate with rival clubs for the 2025 season and beyond.
But the Queenslander isn't certain whether he wants to take up his option to stay in Canberra, or test the open market.
Despite Papali'i's admission, Raiders chief executive Don Furner predicted the front-rower won't be going anywhere.
"I'm hoping Papa is with us for longer," he told The Canberra Times. "I would expect Papa to still be here."
What Papali'i is sure of is he won't be retiring anytime soon.
Two Raiders who may though, include captain Elliott Whitehead and Jordan Rapana, who are both 34 and in the final year of their contracts next season.
With the departure of Jack Wighton to South Sydney, the retirement of Jarrod Croker, and the possibility of Rapana and Whitehead only playing one more year, the Raiders don't want to also lose the experience of Papali'i.
"If you look at the 2019 grand final team, there aren't many of them left," Furner said.
"They were all at a really good age bracket in that 2019 team to have a tilt at the title. You need players like them."
Furner didn't want to jinx Papali'i, but also revealed that should he get within a few games of reaching the 300th milestone, the club would endeavour to celebrate the achievement in the same fashion they did for Croker.
A huge crowd turned out to Bruce on a cold night in June to show their appreciation for Croker, with thousands decked out in one-of-a-kind 300-game shirts dedicated to the Goulburn product.
It didn't matter that the Raiders were soundly beaten 36-14 by the Warriors, it remained an unforgettable night for the club and their fans.
Papali'i has played 282 games in the NRL, and all with the Raiders since his 2011 debut, leaving him needing to play 18 more games to join a rare club of only 49 other players that have achieved the feat.
"I'd love to see Papa get his 300th here next year," Furner added. "He wouldn't want to talk about it yet though."
Papali'i told The Canberra Times earlier this month that he aims to "prove a lot of people wrong" next season, and is driven by the contract uncertainty for 2025 - a similar position he found himself in prior to his best form in 2019.
"I've still got what it takes to be a top-five prop in the game. I feel like that's where I belong," Papali'i said.
Injury was the biggest hurdle he faced in a "frustrating" year in the capital, with a calf issue early in 2023 slowing his start to the season, before a torn bicep in round 26 abruptly ended his campaign.
Those injury hurdles led to an up-and-down year, where he played 18 games, starting three from the bench.
Up-and-coming Raiders forward talent like Ata Mariota, Trey Mooney, Corey Horsburgh and Hohepa Puru are breathing down Papali'i's neck, but competition in the squad is sure to push the group toward a bigger and better 2024.
The club also signed international Wigan forward Morgan Smithies on a three-year deal at the end of last month, to add to their front-row depth.
The 22-year-old will arrive in Canberra in top form, fresh off winning the Super League grand final.
Furner is hoping Smithies can emulate the on-field success of other English imports to the Raiders in recent years, like Whitehead and Josh Hodgson.
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