Queensland enforcer Josh Papalii believes he can still play aggressively after spending his three-week suspension adjusting his tackle height in a bid to avoid future bans.
Papalii was the first player sent off under the NRL’s high contact crackdown. His shot on Canterbury winger Tuipulotu Katoa in Magic Round costing the front-rower a three-week ban that ruled him out of Origin I.
The 50-6 thumping was the first Origin Papalii had missed since Game Three in 2016 and he said the disappointment at watching the Maroons get beaten comprehensively by the Blues had fuelled his desire to lead the way at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday.
"Very hard and very tough to watch seeing the boys go through it. That’s the beauty of a three-game series, you can right your wrongs in games two or three," Papalii told NRL.com.
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"I think it was in the second week that I realised that with the three-week ban I got that I would be missing game one and that is always tough especially when you’ve played back-to-back games for Queensland.
"You always want to be involved in every game you get the opportunity to play.
"It was a bit tough but in saying that I’ve just got to aim a bit lower I think."
Papalii has built his game on aggression. Whether it be his strong carries through the middle of the field or his bruising hits in defence, he is an old-school enforcer that lifts the team with his tough actions.
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But the 29-year-old knows he only needs to slightly change his ways if he is to thrive in this new era of rugby league. That means bending his back a little more and aiming a bit lower, not tackling softer.
"Yeah, I think you can [still hit hard], you just can’t hit hard in the head," he said.
"Obviously I’m a bit bigger than the backs running out of trouble and I’ve just got to bend that big back of mine and just aim around the ball. A lot of training has gone into the three weeks I was suspended and I’ve been working on it.
"I think what the NRL is doing is defending the players who are out there putting their body on the line. We’ve seen the likes of Boyd Cordner and Jake Friend retire due to head injuries and that’s the last thing we need."
Maroons five-eighth Cameron Munster said the return of Papalii would have an enormous impact on the Queensland pack, which also had to combat the early loss of Christian Welch in Origin I after he failed a HIA after just 12 minutes.
Papalii is a veteran of 18 Origin games and knows how to handle the intensity of Origin, as shown by his starring role in last year’s decider.
I think what the NRL is doing is defending the players who are putting their body on the lineMaroons forward Josh Papalii
"Having Paps back, he is a big enforcer for us," Munster said.
"I’m sure the boys in the middle will be getting a couple of feet taller than what they usually are. He is very respected in our camp and I’m sure the big boys will be ready raring to go up alongside him."
Papalii knows part of his role is to instil the same belief in the young forwards coming through the ranks that was passed on to him by the likes of Nate Myles, Matt Scott, Sam Thaiday and Corey Parker.
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And it was the performance of bench prop Moeaki Fotuaika in Origin I that really caught his eye.
"Obviously Moe off the bench there in game one he performed very well in a losing team," Papalii said.
"Tossing up that kind of performance when the team is not going well shows these boys are hopefully the future of the Maroons and they’re only going to get better with the amount of games they’re racking up now."
Origin II in Brisbane is sold out but tickets are still on sale for game three at Stadium Australia in Sydney on July 14 - get your tickets at NRL.com/tickets.