‘Once in 30 year player’: Maroons veteran starstruck
He is the feared leader of the Queensland pack. But Canberra wrecking ball Josh Papalii admits he is in awe of teammate Kalyn Ponga, rating him one of the Maroons' greatest talents in 30 years ahead of Wednesday's State of Origin opener.
That's no mean feat.
The Maroons will start a new era this season after Billy Slater and Greg Inglis joined fellow future Immortals Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk in representative retirement.
Indeed, Queensland's Origin I clash will mark the first time they will not feature at least one of Smith, Slater, Inglis, Cronk or Thurston since game two in 2003.
Hulking prop Papalii has played alongside them all during his 12 Origin career to date.
Yet the Raiders enforcer reckons he has not seen anything like Ponga, who steps up into the big shoes left behind by Slater at fullback for the first time on Wednesday night.
"I am still starstruck that I get to play with Ponga on Wednesday," Papalii said.
"He is some sort of talent and one of those players that will just come along once every 30 years, and I get to play with him.
"For his size and what he does it is outstanding with what he can do with the ball and he is a decent player without the ball as well.
"I am very excited to play with Ponga." While Papalii is clearly pumped about running out alongside livewire No.1 Ponga, back-rower Felise Kaufusi reckons the Canberra heavyweight will be the Maroons pack's inspiration.
"For sure, given the games he has played for us and his experience, he is definitely one of our enforcers," he said.
"He's a bit of a wrecking ball. He's hard to handle and I'll be watching on when he comes off the back fence and bends some boys back."
Papalii baulked at being seen as the Maroons' pack leader but did embrace forging a long lasting front-row combination with Gold Coast giant Jai Arrow in Origin I.
"I like playing with the younger players coming through these days and especially with Jai," he said.
"He is a natural workhorse and a tough little player. We just seen to adapt well to the way we play and hopefully we can do that next Wednesday as well.
"It just gives me a bit of confidence knowing the young fella will turn up and keep going."