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Teenage Warriors prop Isaiah Papalii in action in the Holden Cup in 2016.

You know a club sees something special in a player when they not only sign off on him playing a rival code while being contracted to them, but allow him to prioritise those commitments ahead of rugby league for a year.

That was the case with 18-year-old Warriors prop Isaiah Papalii, who spent last season playing rugby union for his Mt Albert Grammar school on top of playing 11 Holden Cup matches for the Junior Warriors when it didn't clash with his school commitments.

For Papalii it was never a case of being uncertain about which code he wanted to play long-term, but a decision made to improve his opportunities in education.

In agreeing to play for the Mt Albert Grammar school 1st XV, Papalii was able to attend one of New Zealand's best secondary schools and better equip himself for life after sport.

"For me it was league all the way, school was the only reason I played rugby," Papalii told

"Playing rugby at school helped me to have more opportunities, but I played league all the way through growing up.

"I started off the year pretty clear on what I wanted to do, so going into it I wasn't too flustered about doing both sports.

"It was definitely a challenging year on top of academic studies, but it was well worth it."


Papalii appeared in all but one of the school's games in 2016 and was named the best secondary school rugby union player in New Zealand as 'MAGS' went all the way to win the national title.

That team also featured new Canberra Raiders signing Paul Roache, who is the younger brother of Warriors hooker Nathaniel.

Having finished his final year at school Papalii is now working full-time with the Warriors, and to date has featured for the club at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines and in both of their first-grade trials against the Storm and Titans, scoring a try in the latter match.

Kiwi legend Ruben Wiki, who packed down in the front row with Papalii in his first game at the Nines, said there was plenty to like about what the 2016 Junior Kiwi has shown so far.

"Bro, for a young guy he is very mature," Wiki said of Papalii.

"He has shown he is a good listener and that he wants to get as much information as he can while he is with the top squad.

"He has no shortcomings; he adapts to the sport pretty well. He has basketball skills and could adapt to anything if given the time."

Papalii is part of a group of front-rowers vying for the spot made vacant by Ben Matulino's knee injury, which looks set to keep him out of action for at least the first month of the NRL season.

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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