It was in the most critical week of Canberra’s season that Ricky Stuart called Josh Papalii and Joe Tapine into his office and told them they had to lift.
They had to stand up at training, find their voice in team meetings and drag a young and inexperienced pack with them on the field.
With co-captain Josh Hodgson gone and no less than eight middles from their original squad missing after round nine, they had no other choice.
“He just said with all the middles going down it was important for me and Taps to take charge,” Papalii said.
“With Joe being a younger squad member it was also about us speaking up in meetings.
“That has been important to me and helped me develop into a better leader.
“I just try and lead the forward pack the way I shoulder and the boys jump on the wagon and follow.”
Superb in last year’s run to the grand final, Papalii has somehow bettered his 2019 efforts this season.
He’s also done it all amid shoulder and ankle issues, helping prompt Canberra teammates to label him the best prop in the game.
Since Canberra’s injury crisis hit its lowest ebb in round nine, Papalii has five times topped 160 metres.
He’s also stood up in the big games, with his best outings routinely coming against Melbourne and the Sydney Roosters.
Never was that more evident than in Friday night’s semi-final win, when he barged through three defenders for the Raiders’ first and then put on an offload for their second.
Tapine hasn’t been far behind either.
Before the meeting with Stuart, he’d never ran beyond 150 metres in his 108 NRL games.
In the 12 matches since, he’s done it six times.
Again, two of his best showings have come in the part fortnight, beating several defenders to score in the wins over both Cronulla and the Roosters.
“I looked at my game at the start of the year and I didn’t really realise until we lost a couple of players that I needed to start doing a bit better,” Tapine told AAP last week.
“And I just thought I had to stand up and lead the way as well.”
Now though, Melbourne and their pack await where Papalii could potentially end the career of the man he idolised growing up south of Brisbane.
With Cameron Smith weighing up his future, Papalii is well aware of how important the middle battle against his former Queensland and Kangaroos captain will be.
“Smits is the GOAT,” Papalii said.
“He is from the same region I am from in Logan and there are so many kids who look up to Smits. I am no different as a young Logan boy growing up.
“I used to idolise him until I started playing. To play with him and against him has been a dream come true.
“They will be tough on Friday, we have to get a good start and finish strong.”