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GROWING MATURITY

6 June 2022
super rugby pacific rd 6 highlanders v blues
There are many strands to Papalii’s game

“If we win Super Rugby Pacific, I can retire at 24!”

Don’t worry, Dalton Papalii is joking about hanging up the boots just yet. But he’s deadly serious about winning Super Rugby Pacific, 12 months after the Blues annexed the Trans-Tasman title. By the time you read this, they should be gearing up for a home semifinal or final.

At the start of 2021, Caleb Clarke told this magazine that he and Papalii had made a pact that they would not leave this franchise until they had won a championship. Blues fans hope they stick around for many years yet even if Papalii does raise the trophy aloft on June 18.

“That’s the goal. Winning the Trans-Tasman was a taste. It was still a massive accomplishment, to have something in the trophy cabinet after so long. But taking out (Super Rugby Pacific) would just mean the world,” says Papalii.

Those odds firmed three days after this interview, when the captain and No 7 made a critical turnover after the siren, which set in train the events leading to Beauden Barrett’s dramatic late dropped goal to edge the Brumbies and solidify the Blues as top qualifier and with it home advantage through the playoffs. On such key moments do seasons often hang. We know Papalii is a tackling machine, and was fourth on the list of top Super Rugby Pacific tacklers at the time of writing, but there is more breadth to his game than many who rack up big numbers in that area.

England’s admirable Joe Worsley, for instance, did not possess the softer touches that Papalii can showcase, that ability to slip a short ball or fire a long cutout pass, pull down a lineout at two, then clean out with venom at the ruck, or charge 30m to the tryline as he did so emphatically against the Crusaders this season. Still, that tackling has come in very useful in 2022. Papalii has donated $7 for every tackle made to the I Am Hope foundation for mental health. He’d only missed five but he’s paid out on those too. Combined with Adrian Choat’s tackles for when he is rested, Papalii has raised over $1200 from about 190 tackles when we spoke. Not bad going...

Continue this story in our June 22 issue – on shelves now!

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