Papalii backs Hodgson to match Smith

He rates Cameron Smith the best in the NRL, but Josh Papalii reckons Canberra teammate Josh Hodgson will give the Melbourne hooker a run for his money in Saturday’s grand final qualifier.

Papalii believes they are the two form players of the competition and is excited to see them go head-to-head at AAMI Park, in what will be the Raiders’ first preliminary final of the NRL era.

The Australian and Queensland enforcer has played alongside both – with Hodgson in the nation’s capital the past two seasons and Smith at representative level several times over the years.

“They are the two best hookers in the game right now,” Papalii told AAP.

“It will be a big challenge for Hodgo, going up against someone who has been doing it for years in the NRL – the Australian captain, the Maroons captain, and especially when he’s leading Melbourne down there.

“It’s going to be a tough ask ask to go and do a job on them, but it’s a challenge I reckon Hodgo’s looking forward to.”

Hodgson said Smith was one of a number of NRL players he kept a close eye on as a young player in England and throughout his Super League career.

And he is relishing the chance to test himself against a man who has received almost every accolade in the game.

“There’s no point playing the game if you don’t want to be the best. What’s the point in playing if you just want to be average?” he said.

“That’s what I was always taught from when I was younger and what I’ll always stick by until I’m an old fellow in my chair.

Hodgson has been key to the Raiders’ charge towards the final four this season, just his second in Australia.

He earned plaudits all-round for his performance in his side’s semi-final win over Penrith, having miraculously overcome a serious ankle injury suffered a week earlier and a stomach bug that struck on game eve.

The 26-year-old was bed-ridden just hours before kick-off at GIO Stadium and was 1.5kg down on his usual weight, but was influential as ever from dummy half.

“It’s a good sign of his professionalism,” Papalii added.

“It’s going to be a good match-up and I think the NRL are looking forward to it.”

Rugby League Immortal Andrew Johns is tipping Hodgson to win this year’s Dally M Medal, despite losing three points in the award over a one-game suspension.

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