Ricky Stuart has given star prop Josh Papalii a "mental" rest to "bring the old Papa back" despite the highly-fancied Raiders losing four of their last five games.
Canberra will be without both Papalii and co-captain Jarrod Croker for Thursday's bumper clash against South Sydney.
Croker is facing 1-2 weeks out with a recurrence of his off-season shoulder injury and is replaced by Sebastian Kris, while Joe Tapine returns to the 17 in place of Papalii.
After a raft of team changes – including the axing of Kiwi international Tapine – failed to lift Canberra past the Cowboys last week, Stuart's decision to sit Papalii raises eyebrows.
"It's important for Papa to use his break wisely and bring the old Papa back," Stuart said on Wednesday.
Ricky Stuart wants old Papalii back
"We're really missing him at the moment. I had a good chat to Josh this week and he agrees, he's just struggling to find a bit of form and I think it's more mental than anything else.
"So he's still going to be training with the squad but he's not playing. We need him to recapture that old Papa character and ability."
Papalii's resting from the Rabbitohs clash at GIO Stadium no doubt looms as a relief for the visitors given his match-defining against South Sydney in the 2019 preliminary final, a win that sent Canberra to their first grand final in 25 years.
The Test and Origin front-rower started off the bench in last week's loss to North Queensland and only saw 41 minutes of game time.
On Monday Papalii told reporters his start off the bench last week was to avoid "taking the brunt of the game, and obviously form.
"Hopefully [it] sparks something in my game. I still need to pick my form up."
The Raiders five-day turnaround from the Cowboys defeat, which came with a full day's travel either side to Townsville, has played a part in Stuart's thinking on Papalii along with Canberra's strong forward stocks.
Meanwhile, Josh Dugan has been demoted for the first time in his Cronulla career on form, bringing mid-season recruit Will Chambers in to take on his old Melbourne teammates on Friday.
Dugan's axing casts doubt over his future given he is already off-contract, facing a significant pay cut from an $800,000-plus salary and last week flagged the potential for a Japanese rugby move if he can't find an NRL deal for 2022.
Chambers has played just 70 minutes of rugby league since 2019, turning out for feeder side Newtown last week after signing a cut-price Sharks deal for the rest of the year.
The ex-Queensland and Australian centre himself cut short a Japanese rugby stint last year during COVID-19 after playing 215 games for the Storm.
Elsewhere Jason Taumalolo returns from his second broken hand of the season for the Cowboys, who will take on the Warriors this Sunday.
Whiz-kid Reece Walsh has been named at five-eighth for the Kiwi side with captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck returning to fullback after shuffling to the wing to accommodate the 18-year-old.
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The Roosters have named fellow schoolboy sensation Joseph Suaalii in their extended reserves and James Tedesco at fullback, though the Tricolours star must still pass concussion protocols to take on Newcastle.
Should Tedesco be ruled unfit, winger Matt Ikuvalu is expected to come into the side with Joey Manu moving to fullback, rather than Suaalii being handed his NRL debut.
Ryan Matterson (concussion) and Ben Hunt (broken leg) both return for the Eels and Dragons respectively, while the Broncos will field their fourth halves pairing in eight games with Anthony Milford recalled to partner Tyson Gamble against the Titans.
Cowboys-bound playmaker Tom Dearden has been dropped, as have David Mead and Brodie Croft.
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