Josh Papalii benched himself against the Storm.
Josh Papalii benched himself against the Storm.

Papalii’s huge call to bench himself

Sia Soliola says Josh Papalii is to the Raiders what Cameron Smith is to the Storm.

He's their leader.

That's why his call to bench himself in the biggest game of the year is so telling.

It was the right call.

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Josh Papalii came off the bench in the qualifying final.
Josh Papalii came off the bench in the qualifying final.


Dogged by niggling injuries and confident in the younger, enthusiastic players, the Australian and Queensland prop told coach Ricky Stuart he wanted to be put on the interchange bench against Melbourne at AAMI Park.

In his place went Dunamis Lui. A solid prop, but no Australian front-rower.

"It's a long year," Papalii explains.

"The call was to come off the bench this week and you've got young players like [Dunamis Lui] and Joseph Tapine coming back from injury. I think their hunger … I just wasn't up to pace this week and thought it would be a good idea to come off the bench. I thought it worked well.

"I went up to Sticky and he said it was my call. I thought it wasn't a bad call at all."

This year Papalii has played 24 games for the Raiders and three for Queensland in his finest season to date.

The call to bench himself in one of the biggest games in the club's history points to his selflessness. It's so finely tuned he would be willing to sit out the grand final if it meant Canberra won the premiership.

Not that it would ever happen without him.


Josh Papalii has emerged as a real leader at Canberra.
Josh Papalii has emerged as a real leader at Canberra.

"I'm willing to do it again in a fortnight's time. Like I've said every week I'll do whatever I can for the team," he said.

"[The grand final] is the dream, hey. I'll give everything to make a GF. If that's a bench spot for me or not in the team at all, I'm willing to make that call."

Now 27, he's growing into his leadership, although there's not a lot of Cameron Smith about it.

Papalii said he just likes to have fun. And do you know what's fun? Winning.

"I love to have a good time, sometimes I've been on the front page of the paper because I've had too much fun to be honest," he says.

"I just try and make the place an enjoyable place. I don't speak as much during meetings and everything, but I guess just looking after the younger boys."

Twice the Raiders have played Melbourne at AAMI Park this year and twice they have snuck away with the win.

Now they're only one win away from their first grand final appearance in 25 years.