Monday Buzz: Move over Tedesco, Smith
James Tedesco is not the best player in the NRL and nor is Cameron Smith.
Not according to Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart.
The man who has masterminded the remarkable Green Machine grand-final charge has nominated his own front-rower Josh Papalii as the best player in the competition.
It's a big statement because front-rowers or middle forwards are rarely spoken about in the same conversation as the playmaker superstars such as Smith or Tedesco, or Cooper Cronk and Cameron Munster when we are discussing the best in the business.
"I honestly believe Josh Papalii is the best player in the competition," Stuart said.
"Who's better than him? We always just look at the glamour positions - halfback, five-eighth, fullbacks and hooker - and don't compliment those who play in the toughest positions on the field.
"Because they might only play 55 or 60 minutes in the middle, they don't get the credit they deserve or the big awards at the end of each season.
"Everyone saw the impact he had on Friday night and the try he scored that sealed the game."
Papalii hasn't always been such a dominant force for the Raiders.
He used to play on the edge but battled weight problems.
This season he got his preparation and professionalism right and has emerged as the number one front-rower in the game.
Statistics show a fantastic improvement in his game since round 17. He has had significantly more metres, more tackle busts and fewer errors and penalties.
"If Queensland had won State of Origin, Josh would have been player of the series," Stuart said.
"He's having the same impact Jason Taumalolo had at the Cowboys when people were saying he was the best player in the game.
"Josh is now at his best playing weight and it was all his choice. He's made the sacrifices and had the discipline.
"It's easy in the group situation at training but it's how you look after yourself for the rest of the time. He's been really professional."
The 118kg front-rower credits his family for the changes he had to make to be a more dominating force.
Which is why he's chosen to take his father Patrick as his partner to the Dally M awards at the Hordern Pavilion on Wednesday night.
"Dad's been a huge part of my whole career and someone who's always supported me," Papalii said.
"It's a chance to take him along and thank him for all that support.
"Family is very important to me and us making the grand final is a reward for all the sacrifices all our families go through for us to play each week. Hopefully we can get the win next week now."
On Sunday, Papalii's clash with Roosters heavyweight Jared Waerea-Hargreaves will be a match highlight.
Whoever gets control of the middle will win the premiership.
The Raiders and Roosters have got to the decider on the back of the midfield penetration their big men provide week in, week out.
Only three props have won the Clive Churchill Medal - Canterbury's Paul Dunn (1988), Bulldog Willie Mason (2004) and Manly's Brent Kite (2008).
If Stuart is any judge, another one could do it next weekend.
Replay the 2019 NRL Telstra Premiership Grand Final in full on KAYO SPORTS. Get your 14 day free trial and start streaming instantly >