Josh Papalii has pledged his full support to new Canberra coach Ricky Stuart
Josh Papalii has opened up about the meeting with new Raiders coach Ricky Stuart that has united the pair in a bid to reverse the fortunes of Canberra in 2014.
Since returning from Australia's triumphant World Cup campaign, Papalii has met with Stuart in Canberra before returning to Brisbane to spend time with good friend Anthony Milford ahead of a holiday in Samoa to reflect on a tumultuous 12 months.
Prior to the 2013 season Papalii reneged on a three-year deal to join Stuart at Parramatta in order to remain at the Raiders and he has spoken about the chain of events that sees the pair united in a shared bond in the nation's capital, with Stuart citing family reasons for walking out on his contract at the Eels after just one season.
"I met him in Brisbane and I just told him the truth and why I had to make my decision and obviously you have seen Ricky do the same," Papalii told NRL.com of his about-face to stay in Canberra. "He understood my decision because he had to make it himself. We are all on the same page now and hopefully we take the Raiders further than this year.
"We got all the rubbish out then and I just told him why I made my decision and he told me why he made his so we're all on the same page.
"I saw him earlier this week but we weren't talking footy. He just told me to get away from footy and rest the body and rest the mind. That's what I'm doing now.
"I talked to a couple of the boys and they said that the vibe around training was a lot different to last year and all the other years so he's definitely doing something that's working.
"I am looking forward to playing under Ricky and hopefully we're able to take the Raiders somewhere further than last year."
Few players had a more meteoric rise through the ranks than Papalii in 2013. Despite overtures from New Zealand and Samoa, the 21-year-old pledged his allegiance to Queensland and Australia and went on to play significant roles in the Maroons' State of Origin Series win and the Kangaroos' World Cup win in England.
Off the field Papalii's education took on an even steeper curve with the drama surrounding his contract negotiations between the Eels and Raiders and a night out drinking in Auckland with teammate Milford two days before a key clash with the Warriors late in the season.
"I didn't know that playing Origin and playing for Australia, you get a bit of exposure," Papalii said. "I guess the rugby league world, you walk around and people notice you and I never thought that would happen to me. It was just a different situation for me; I'd never been in that corner before.
"Like [the incident in] New Zealand, I didn't handle it very well but I've learned from it, which is the main thing.
"I had some dramas off the field this year and it's definitely made me a better person. Sometimes I also forget how young I am and I guess I just have to learn how to compose myself and deal with situations like that. I've definitely learned from it and it definitely won't happen again."
Even the World Cup final win over England – and being part of a Kangaroos squad hailed as one of the greatest ever assembled – wasn't without a tinge for sadness for Papalii who reflected on the sacrifices made by his parents as he prepared to walk on to the famed Old Trafford playing surface.
"Just before we walked out I looked up into the crowds and it was the first time I didn't see my old man in the crowd for one of my biggest games," said Papalii.
"It definitely brought back a lot of memories and the sacrifices my parents had to make and I guess I soaked it up that way, that it was something I had achieved but also my parents had as well for all their sacrifices as a little kid. That was a special moment for me, walking out before the anthems.
"They weren't there for the final so I was a bit emotional when I got home."
And you sense that being at home among friends and family is where Papalii, like most of us, is happiest. He was excited about the prospect of reuniting with Milford when he spoke with NRL.com and said he will support his friend in whatever decision he makes regarding his immediate playing future, even if that means not playing alongside him at Canberra in 2014.
"He's all good, he's just got to realise that he's going to be something big in the NRL and I guess he's just got to prepare for the exposure he's going to get," Papalii said.
"I haven't been talking footy with him but we'll see what happens. Hopefully [he'll be at Canberra in 2014] but I'll support him 100 per cent anyway, whatever he does."