Rising through the ranks at the Canterbury Bulldogs, Joash Papalii is focused on making his NRL debut and forging his own rugby league legacy.

Growing up as a Parramatta Eels fan and idolizing Jarryd Hayne's ability on the field, Papalii has been at Belmore since 2021, when he was brought into the club's Harold Matthews Cup squad.

Since then, he has gone on to have an impressive junior representative career that has seen him play in the SG Ball Cup, and Jersey Flegg Cup and earn honours for the Under-19s NSW Blues squad.

Now plying his trade in the NSW Cup, Papalii is focused on earning an NRL call-up from Cameron Ciraldo.

Having played all reserve-grade games this season (all 560 minutes), the young Bulldog has been a key figure at the back of the field in which he has scored one try, provided five try assists, made 18 tackle busts and two line-breaks and is averaging 123 running metres per game.

"Yes, 100 per cent," Papalii toldĀ Zero TackleĀ when asked if it was his goal to play in the NRL this season.

"This year, the big focus is just where I'm playing, wherever I'm at to just be prepared for the unexpected whenever I get the call-up from Ciro.

"I'm just going to try and improve every day, each day, especially behind the scenes when no one sees us (and) just work hard."

Joash Papalii in action. (Photo: Flickr- @NAPARAZZI)

A local junior starting out at St. Johns Eagles in Punchbowl, he has spent most of his career in the fullback position but also spent time on the wing and in the centres throughout his junior career.

However, Phil Gould made a surprising admission last year, revealing that he could be moved into a dummy-half role, which would see him take over from Reed Mahoney down the road or play a one-two punch with him off the interchange bench

Despite Gould's comments, Papalii provided an insight into where he could play if given the chance at NRL level this season.

He admitted that while he would love to wear the number one jersey, he seems himself as a utility off the bench at the moment and is happy to play wherever Cameron Ciraldo wants him to play."

"I think as a 14, just play anywhere, wherever Ciro puts me. I just got to play and bring (what I can) toward the team, but I think just staying as a 14," Papalii said.

"Wherever Ciro tells me to go, I just got to do it.

NRL Pre-Season Challenge Rd 1 - Bulldogs v Storm
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 15: Stephen Crichton looks on during the NRL Pre-season challenge match between Canterbury Bulldogs and Melbourne Storm at Belmore Sports Ground on February 15, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

The Under-19s NSW Blues representative also discussed the influence that coach Cameron Ciraldo and recruit Stephen Crichton have had on him and helped him become a better player on and off the field.

Crichton joined the team this season from the Penrith Panthers and instantly became a leader at the club, even before he was named captain.

"He's really helped me out on the field, (especially with) the extras and just directing me with my numbers in defence like in training sessions with the one percenters," said the young gun.

"If I'm lost he'll always direct me and just guide me in those little things. Critta has had a big impact on me

"I was at the start of pre-season, and he gave me that opportunity. He saw something in me, and I was still young," he added regarding the influence of Cameron Ciraldo.

"I thought I was going to go back to SG Ball, and I just got the opportunity after just training hard, and I'm grateful for Ciro for what he's done for me, and I think we've built a bond.

"I've started opening up and breaking out of my shell from with Ciro, so he's helped me a lot."

"My family (also) means a lot," he continued.

"All the sacrifices they've done for me since I was playing at six years old when I started my footy from the local juniors, they mean a lot.

"They are why I play and I just remember the little things, what they did for me, taking me to a lot of places just to where I want to be a success."