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Papalii: World Cup a life-changer

Matt Encarnacion NRL.com Wed, Nov 20, 2013 - 12:40 PM

Kangaroos rookie Josh Papalii says the World Cup has changed him, both on and off the field. Copyright: SWpix.com

To all the unbelievers of the global game, please read the following memo: "This World Cup has changed me."

They are the same words famously uttered by a young Jarryd Hayne five years ago when, just eight months after being the target of a drive-by shooting in Kings Cross, he helped Fiji to a surprise semi-final berth against Australia. 

Twelve months later Hayne turned in one of the most dominant, unadulterated patches of form we've ever seen on a footy field, culminating in a Dally M medal and the unlikeliest of grand final appearances for Parramatta. 

And then every season since, the NSW Origin mainstay has practically carried the Eels – sore hamstrings, crooked knees and all – through one of its most turbulent eras in the club's history. 

Sure, Parramatta may have been left with wooden spoons over the past two seasons. But the point is that Hayne has been strong enough to wear the brunt of it all. There have been plenty of opportunities to leave, but he hasn't. It's a telling measure of a man who rides the tough times out. 

And a lot of it, if not all, boils down to his World Cup experience with the Bati and those six weeks that changed his life. 

Half a decade on and now here we are, those same words echoing around a tournament that is beginning to have more meaning than simply which nation will be holding up the trophy at the end of it. 

"Yeah it's changed me. On the field, it's been about playing with experienced players, and them helping me hone my game," Kangaroos rookie Josh Papalii says. 

"Off the field, seeing the other side of the world, places I haven't seen before, has opened my eyes. Those same senior players have taught me to make smart decisions, they've helped me with my off-field issues." 

"I've been working pretty hard on our training days and on our off days too, trying to do more. I think the coach recognised that and gave me a shot."

Papalii, of course, was mugged on the first night of the tour. Told to withdraw about 200 pounds from an ATM and hand it over like a deliberate knock-on right in front of his own posts. 

Understandably, the intimidating forward hesitates when talking about it, but you sense that the Raiders star is learning a lot more on tour than the best way to defeat Ireland or Fiji. 

"Sometimes you can find yourself in a situation where you can't really help yourself. But the experienced players have been there to help me. It's learning about life in general," he says. 

Having shrugged off the first-night scare, Papalii was one of many of Tim Sheens' curious selections for Australia's quarter-final victory over USA. 

With long-time utility Luke Lewis nursing a busted shoulder back home in the Shire, it was expected that representative stalwart Nate Myles would slot in. 

But Sheens opted for the rookie, who had been one of the most impressive trainers on tour. 

"Just watching guys like Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater show their professionalism in their footy has been an experience," Papalii says. 

"They work hard in the gym and then do extras off the field. I've been working pretty hard on our training days and on our off days too, trying to do more. I think the coach recognised that and gave me a shot. I was just real thankful and hope I made him proud. If I get to play against Fiji again or not, the experience has been enough for me."