Parramatta star Isaiah Papali’i doesn’t rule out Tigers backflip as finals approach

Look away, Wests Tigers fans.

Parramatta star Isaiah Papali’i hasn’t ruled out a backflip on his move to Concord despite signing a three-year deal last November.

The 23-year-old has emerged as one of the best strikers in the game in recent years, with his move to the Eels paying off for the New Zealand star.

But a lucrative offer from the Tigers and salary cap pressures at the Eels would see Papali’i announce he will move on in 2023 to join Kiwis coach Michael Maguire.

There’s just one problem – Maguire has since been sacked by the Tigers and won’t feature next year.

Speaking of Nine messages On Monday night, Papali’i admitted he was “shattered” by the Maguire news and that it played a role in his backflip.

“Of course people ask me about it, even on the street or with family and friends – but my manager has to take care of that,” he said.

“Even if I’m not staying here or going next year, I want to make sure I don’t have any regrets this year.

“I think it was the coaching ax that went on. When I went and signed I spoke to Madge and he’s a great coach.

“It shook the cage a bit…that was a massive factor for me.”

Papali’i has averaged 139 yards and 35 tackles per game for Parramatta this year and leads the club with 77 tackle breaks.

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But with a huge run to the finals and a World Cup looming, Papali’i is in no rush to make a decision about his future.

“I’m counting somewhere in the off-season because that’s just going to distract me at the moment,” he said.

“We have a huge opportunity and I want to leave no stone unturned this year.

“We have a huge run home and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Wests has already lost Luciano Leilua and Luke Garner heading into next year, with its edge-forward stock now heavily reliant on the arrival of Papali’i.

And while the second rower was noncommittal in his own comments, Tigers chairman Lee Hagipantelis spoke to him SEN Breakfast with Vossy and Brandy on Tuesday and shutdown proposals of a backflip.

“We’re going to ask for clarification from his manager today, but I don’t put much stock in that,” he said.

“What he was saying, I think if I’m reading this correctly, is that he wants to focus on this year with Parramatta, which is fair enough. It is known that we have a contractual relationship with Isaiah and we are delighted to welcome him to the club in 2023.

“I expect phone calls will be made this morning for clarification – just to give Isaiah and his manager a chance to flesh out those comments a bit. We are very comfortable with our position.

“If he wanted to say more, I’m sure he will – either himself directly or through his manager. I don’t want to read his comments and don’t want to create fear between the club and the player.

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“I will try to give the most positive turn and say that he is focused on the rest of this year.”

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