Josh Papalii says his focus is on Canberra’s NRL premiership tilt not national selection, and believes even thinking about a Kangaroos jersey is disrespectful to his teammates.
The in-form Raiders star is eager to end the third-longest title drought in the competition, with Canberra last holding the premiership trophy aloft in 1994.
The 22-year dry spell is bettered only by Parramatta (1986) and Cronulla (no premierships since 1967).
Arguably the Raiders’ best forward during their run of eight straight wins, Papalii is considered a certainty for the Kangaroos squad in October’s Four Nations tournament.
However, the team’s only State of Origin representative, who famously drove to the nation’s capital for Raiders training the morning after this year’s Origin I, isn’t allowing himself to even consider getting on the plane to England.
“Not at the moment. I’ve got more important stuff than that at the moment,” Papalii told AAP.
“Obviously it’s a goal, but I think for me to be even thinking about that right now, I’d be disrespecting the team. I’m just trying to do my job.”
Papalii may not be the only player to enjoy representative selection at year’s end.
Jarrod Croker and Joey Leilua’s sensational form has rocketed the pair into Kangaroos reckoning, as has New Zealand candidate Jordan Rapana.
English pair Josh Hodgson and Elliot Whitehead are also expected to be named by new coach Wayne Bennett.
Just how many Raiders get picked for higher honours could rely on how deep they push into the finals, particularly after sewing up a top-four spot last week.
And they can even steal second spot should they ruin Jamie Lyon’s farewell and defeat Manly on Saturday, and second-placed Cronulla continue their late-season slide.
A hamstring injury has denied Lyon a final NRL appearance before retiring, and he could be joined on the sidelines by Dylan Walker, who’s battling a shoulder injury.
“He’s a slight chance of playing,” Manly coach Trent Barrett said on Friday.
Should Walker be ruled out, rookie Brad Parker, who scored two tries in last week’s loss to Melbourne, will take his place.
For Canberra, Edrick Lee returns from injury in place of four-try hero Brenko Lee, while Paul Vaughan and Sam Williams go in for injured pair Junior Paulo and Blake Austin.
Hodgson returns from a one-game suspension.
STATS THAT MATTER
* Canberra haven’t defeated Manly twice in the same season since 1999.
* Manly have won just three games at Brookvale this season – their fewest wins there in a season since winning two of five in 1965.
* Canberra are the only team in the NRL era not to have played at least a preliminary final. Their last grand final qualifier was in 1995.