Papalii Homesick?

BY DAN

Reports emerged late last week that Josh Papalii was considering a shock move ‘home’ to Brisbane. Understandably, Brisbane and the Titans are interested. So is Papalii out the door? And what happened to being a “Raider for life”?

Here’s what we know. Papalii is signed to the Raiders until the end of 2022. He is currently in negotiation with the club to stay until the end of 2024, when he’d be 32. Not quite Raider for life, but close enough. Last week the discussions seemed to reach an impasse of sorts, and a Queensland media, and then Papalii, mentioned the need to consider his family in any decision. Papalii told NRL.com:

I’ve still got two years left on my contract. I’m speaking to the club now about a few things. But my wife and I have to consider our parents getting a little bit older back in Brissy. Then obviously, we’ve got no family down here

When I first read this quote, I assumed it was a holding pattern to ensure Canberra came to the table with the money Papalii needed to make an extension happen. Big Papa would definitely be in Canberra for two more years after this season, and if the Raiders came with enough money – reportedly 700k plus according to NRL.com – then it would add an extra two more. Now it seems the conversation has shifted to whether he’ll see out his current deal.

Update: The claims that Papalii has either sought a release or is not committed to the club has been rejected by both Papalii and the Raiders to Dan Walsh at nrl.com. Needless to say we’ll be waiting until there’s a signature is on paper before we get too excited.

Before John Bateman and Nic Cotric walked out the door I would have treated this with scepticism. I assumed the noise around both of them was just that – an attempt to get a few more rubles before they signed on. But the Raiders let them go. Initially I felt similar with Papalii. This was surely just part of the negotiations escaping into the public eye. Or an attempt by big money clubs with spare cash wanting to sow trouble and pick up the scraps. Why would a man in the middle of an extension discussion be talking homesickness? Surely if that was the case the first step would be to cease the extension discussions? My first instinct is to always follow the money, and that discussion was happening with Canberra, not elsewhere.

But I thought similar things of the Englishman and Cotric, and well, we know how they worked out. We have the added variable of the corona-virus, and potential travel difficulties into Queensland, that may also sway Papalii. At least publicly, Bateman suggested similar uncertainties drove his move home. It’s hard to square this with other reports that Papalii wanted to stay in Canberra for the rest of his career, but if anything Covid has highlighted how important loved ones are. No one could blame him if he wanted to be closer to family.

Sidebar: This doesn’t even mention the degree of triggering that occurs for me when I hear ‘homesick’ as a reason to take the money and third party deals at the Broncos.

Regardless, the Raiders are facing a real challenge. It’s smart work to be financially disciplined, but if talent keeps walking out the door they may need to adjust their mark. Perhaps Sticky was so publicly effusive about Papalii recently in an attempt to win him over with love rather than money. I know there’s a line where it becomes ridiculous to pay players, and we can only go off rumour here, but it goes without question that letting a Canberra legend and the best prop in the competition and the team’s history walk out the door would be gutting. I trust Peter Mulholland to ascertain where the line is. I just hope it includes keeping Papalii in Canberra.

Only time will tell if this is a negotiation tactic, or the end of a beautiful friendship. I don’t want Papalii to leave, and chances are neither do you. Let’s hope cooler heads prevail and he decides to stay in Canberra.

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