On the back of his first season without representative football for over a decade, Josh Papali’i has returned to Raiders training feeling refreshed ahead of his 14th season in the NRL.
The 31-year-old’s retirement from the Origin arena after 23 appearances for the Maroons, coupled with missing the end-of-year Pacific Championships due to surgery on a biceps injury, meant Papali’i played just 18 games last season, the fewest since his rookie year back in 2011.
“It’s something my body needed,” Papali’i told NRL.com.
“Playing 10 years of Origin and then international games as well, that does take a toll. At the beginning of last year it felt like it all caught up to me, with my calf injury at the start and then the biceps injury at the end.
“The break was some time to invest back into myself and I am feeling pretty good… my mindset is clear, I am refreshed and just keen.
I already feel like I am in a better spot than what I returned in after the World Cup in 2022. I felt like I was behind the eight ball the whole time last season.Josh Papali'i
It all contributed to what Papali'i deemed an "average" campaign on the personal front, as the Raiders faded away in the final two months and exited the finals in week one with him on the sidelines injured.
But with his biceps now healed and the benefits that come with a full pre-season, the former Dally M Prop of the Year is confident he can rediscover top form.
“When you’ve been playing at the top level for a while you tend to criticise your performance a lot harder than most people would," Papali'i said.
“There were a lot of stats that I did better in 2021 and 2022; I just didn’t reach those numbers last season.
Josh Papali'i loves a try
“That’s something I have looked into going into next season and something I look forward to rewriting."
The upcoming season shapes as an important one for Papali’i for other reasons as well, with both he and the club to decide whether a mutual option to play on in 2025 is exercised.
With fellow veterans Elliott Whitehead, Jordan Rapana and Nick Cotric also off contract at the end of 2024 the Raiders will have some big decisions to make, but for the time being Papali'i isn't ready to make any calls on his own future.
“I have spoken to Sticky (coach Ricky Stuart) on a personal level. But my focus is on a good pre-season and then a good season and my footy will look after itself,” he said.
“I am injury free right now and pretty confident I can produce a good season.”