It was this time last year young Isaiah Papali’i was named to make his NRL debut. He would suit up in top grade for the very first time in a 26-22 win against the Newcastle Knights. The season didn’t turn out the way he, nor the Warriors would have hoped.
Papali’i would only make four more appearances following his debut, coming at the back end of the year when the Warriors were well and truly out of the finals race. He managed to impress in his limited time, even scoring his first NRL try.
Papali’i struggled to keep his place in the regular 17 with players such as Ryan Hoffman, Bodene Thompson and Simon Mannering ahead of him in the pecking order. With Hoffman and Thompson both leaving the club in the offseason, the door has been opened for the 19-year-old.
Still, in competition with the likes of Leivaha Pulu, Bunty Afoa and Agnatius Paasi, Papali’i has been given the opportunity to cement his place in the team, partly due to the shoulder injury keeping Simon Mannering out of their round one clash with the Rabbitohs.
In 14 appearances with the Warriors NSW Cup team last season, Papali’i managed 6 tries and 6 linebreaks while holding a tackle efficiency of 90.3%. These numbers will only improve with age and experience.
Papali’i will start in the back-row next to Ligi Sao and star recruit Tohu Harris. If he can further impress Stephen Kearney and showcase his dynamic running game he may just be able to keep his place once Mannering is back.
Other notable additions see Peta Hiku join Solomone Kata in the centres and Sam Cook take the bench utility role vacated due to the season-ending injury to Nathaniel Roache.
The Warriors play the South Sydney Rabbitohs on Saturday at 9:00pm