NRL 8 months ago

Warriors teen cracks NRL big time

  • Warriors teen cracks NRL big time

    AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 04: Isaiah Papalii of the Warriors reacts during the 2017 Auckland Nines match between the Warriors and the Sea Eagles at Eden Park on February 4, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

Warriors young gun Isaiah Papali'i says the soothing words of boss Stephen Kearney pulled him through his NRL debut.

Replacing the injured Simon Mannering in the 48th minute, the 18-year-old played just over 20 minutes in the back row as his side beat Newcastle 26-22.

In that time he made 13 tackles and three carries, but was also steamrolled by Jack Stockwell for the four-pointer that sparked the Knights' futile mini-recovery.

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Papali'i said new coach Kearney had instructed him to keep things simple on the paddock and let the hard work of pre-season pay dividends.

"It definitely kept me calm, really relaxed coming into the game, knowing my role wasn't that I had to pull a miracle," Papali'i told reporters.

"He doesn't say too much, just keeps it real basic and as a young fella, he doesn't put too many different things in my head."

A former high-school rugby star for Mount Albert Grammar, Papali'i's fidelity to rugby league was never in question after growing up supporting the Warriors.

He played both league for the junior Warriors and rugby in 2016 before making a permanent switch to the 13-a-side game and NRL.

Participation in last month's Auckland Nines followed, before running out in the Warriors' trials against Melbourne and Gold Coast.

"To get out on the field and get a crack at it was definitely a memory to cherish forever," Papali'i said.

"Another step up from trials and definitely a step up from the under-20s.

"I'm keen to get more of a taste of it."

Kearney said the gym-loving teenager, who is also an ex-Oceania youth powerlifting champion, had performed well in a pressure-cooker environment.

After heading into the break 20-8 ahead, the Warriors seized up and almost threw away the match before Ryan Hoffman's late winner.

"He's done wonderfully well during pre-season, had a couple trials and as a football club that's what we want to encourage," Kearney said.

"These young kids coming through our club, giving them the opportunity to be better NRL players."

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