Canberra prop Josh Papalii was once capable of wreaking havoc after eating pancakes and waffles for breakfast, but former Maroons prop Dave Shillington says his old teammate is even more devastating now after learning to eat cleaner.
Papalii’s keen attention to detail off the field is a key reason why Shillington insists the 27-year-old is "a lock" to be named in the front row for the Maroons in Game I of the Holden State of Origin series on June 5.
Papalii said Shillington was one of a suite of Canberra forwards that taught him plenty as a Raiders rookie.
"I had to grow up pretty quick and now I know why guys like Shillo were so hard on me when I started at Canberra. He was so professional in his approach and helped me a with a lot of things off the field,” Papalii told NRL.com.
Shillington's approach came to the fore when Papalii was preparing for one of his first NRL games for Canberra.
"I think back to when Josh was a complete rookie and myself, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs and Dane Tilse were down at breakfast in the hotel before the game having some healthy poached eggs and avocado on toast and Papa walked up to the buffet and had pancakes, waffles and bacon – the whole kit and kaboodle – and we looked at each other and thought 'What is this guy thinking?'," Shillington grinned.
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"He didn't understand back then that you've got to eat right before a game or you'll be lethargic on game day. We decided to let him get through the game first and talk about it later, but he's come out and had a blinder against the Broncos and scored two tries. Come Monday when we did plan to talk to him we thought "We’ll just let him go and try pancakes ourselves before the game next time'."
"It worked for him that time but over the years he's learned that you can't get away with that, and that as the NRL takes its toll on you those things don't help you. It is a good story to tell about Josh, how he has matured as a player and takes care of himself now off the field."
Papalii, who has played 12 games for the Maroons mostly off the bench, started at prop in Queensland's 18-12 win over NSW in Game III in 2018, where Shillington said he was "sensational" in tandem with Jai Arrow.
"Front row is a specialist position and in my mind it seemed like a massive gamble to not have two specialist front rowers playing State of Origin but both of them were a huge part of winning game three," Shillington said.
"I have all the respect in the world for Josh and it is great telling the story of how he got away with things as a naturally gifted young person, to then build and evolve into a career where he dominates in the front row at State of Origin level.
"When he started in the front row last year they needed a lot out of him and he provided that, and then some. There's been a huge change in personnel for the Maroons this year but in my mind he's locked into the front-row spot. There's a huge responsibility on him to be consistent and step up again to be so devastating like he was last year."
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Papalii said he was ready for the challenge again and determined to honour the greats that have worn the jersey before him.
"It is not every day that you get to start an Origin game, particularly in the front row. That challenge and the assignment of taking that first carry of the game really excited me last year," Papalii said.
"Petero [Civoniceva] was always a big inspiration for me, being Polynesian, just with the way he played the game so tough. Then I think of legends like Shane Webcke, and Thumper [Matt] Scott who is still playing today.
"They set the path for me with the way they play. What I did [in 2018] is last year's news now and I know that I am going to have to play some good footy for Canberra to get in that Queensland side."
Maroons legend Civoniceva said Papalii was ready to lead Queensland's forwards again.
"I have been super impressed with Papalii," Civoniceva told NRL.com.
"He's been fantastic for Canberra and a mainstay of the Maroons side for a number of years, so this is a real opportunity now for him to become that senior player that we need to show the way for our young forwards and really step up to the plate."