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Fan favourite: Remarkable Papali'i rise rewarded in poll

Even before he'd worn the blue and gold jersey, the hard-working and hungry Isaiah Papali'i made a lasting impression on Parramatta captain Clint Gutherson.

"He's been great for us since day one and ever since that first training session you got to see what he was about," Gutherson said.

Having taken a pay cut to leave the Warriors - where he debuted as an 18-year-old in 2017 - the Kiwi forward was determined to push past his comfort zone and reinvigorate his career at the Eels.

He quickly became a pillar of strength for his new team - the 22-year-old's form has been so impressive that Papali'i was voted the best second-rower and best recruit in NRL.com's 2021 Fans' Poll.

Papali'i was also rated as the second-most improved player behind dynamic Melbourne playmaker Nicho Hynes.

It's been a remarkable rise for Papali'i, who played 15 games for the Warriors last season, and it's safe to say Parramatta got a bargain.

Averaging 147 metres per match and tackling with a 93.9% efficiency rate, in the eyes of fans Papali'i has outperformed marquee rivals like David Fifita, Viliame Kikau and Angus Crichton.

Such is his versatility that an injury to Reagan Campbell-Gillard has resulted in Papali'i playing prop for the past two weeks.

Papali'i simply just can't be stopped

Gutherson lauded him as a "great buy", reflecting on how Papali'i laid the groundwork for his breakout season in the summer.

"He was always in there doing extras, getting his body right, making sure he's ready with all those sessions," he said.

"And then all that hard work's paid off. He's been one of our best every single week till this date and I'm sure he'll keep striving to be better there now in that front row.

"He really got us forward on the weekend. Just the way he goes about his business on and off the field, it's a full credit to where he is at as a player and he's only going to get better from here.

"We need him to be the damaging sort of player he is every single week for us to be at our best."

Gutherson added that it doesn't matter whether Papali'i is named at second row or prop - the Eels just want him "on the field".

"We saw what he did last week [in the relieving 32-16 win over the Cowboys], he's got those ball-skills in him through the middle and he can play tough as well," Gutherson continued.

"Wherever Brad [Arthur] and the coaching staff put him, he's going to go out there and do a job. You don't hear any complaints from him. He just goes out there and plays hard and that's all we need him to do."

Indeed, Papali'i's power will be crucial when Parramatta face the might of the Storm at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.

Melbourne are on the cusp of a record 20th straight win, but Parramatta took confidence from their 16-12 victory in round two.

"I think just knowing that we have beaten them before and we have beaten some of the stronger teams, it just shows that we are capable of doing good things when we're at our best," five-eighth Dylan Brown said.

"But it's just up to us to action that and actually go out there and perform because we haven't done that over the last couple of weeks.

"There's not much talking we can do, it's only some actions we can put out on the field."

Brown swapped back to the left edge last week - trading places with halfback Mitch Moses after the pair moved at the start of the year - and said he was comfortable with the finals approaching.

"There are a few new things we're working on and that was our first game switching sides, so we're working on a few different things - but good things take time," Brown said.

"Considering the fact that we've both played either side it hasn't really been much of a dramatic change. I played there all last year so now it's not too worrying. It's not much difference at all.

"It's just new players around you."

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