Rookie Warriors forward Isaiah Papali'i has experienced the highs and lows in his debut NRL season but hopes the hard times have prepared him for bigger and better things next year.
The 18-year-old back-rower never expected to play first grade this season but now finds himself preparing to make his fifth appearance off the bench in Sunday's final round clash against Wests Tigers in Sydney.
While the 13th-placed Warriors have missed the NRL finals for a sixth straight year and are looking to avoid a club record nine straight losses in a season, Papali'i has been pleased with his own development and progression.
The former Mt Albert Grammar rugby star has his sights set on earning regular game time next year but is still hoping to achieve success in the coming weeks with the club's reserve grade side in the Intrust Super Premiership finals.
"This season has exceeded my own expectations," said Papali'i.
"I'm pretty stoked that he's (coach Stephen Kearney) given me the opportunity this season.
"I feel I've put my best foot forward in all of the games I've been able to play.
"Hopefully next year I can build and get a few more games and go from there.
"That's the goal. I feel like I can definitely make a big step forward going into next year - after winning the finals with ISP."
Papali'i admits it's been a big learning curve, having played in the Under 20s NYC competition last season before being thrust into the NRL for the round one home match against the Knights.
Having been given a taste of the big time, he was then put back to reserve grade and made to wait, before injuries saw him called on again for the round 22 rematch in Newcastle.
The time spent in the second tier competition has been beneficial, he says, in conditioning his body and mind to handle the rigours of NRL.
"I've just been learning whenever I got the opportunity and even in ISP, because it's my first year there," he said.
"I definitely found improvement from it and it really helps me when I play NRL, just the physicality of playing against men that are a lot bigger and stronger than me."
Papali'i looked right at home in 12 appearances for the reserve grade side, who finished second in the regular season, although they'll again be without him in Sunday's week one playoff against Penrith at UOW Jubilee Oval (6pm kick-off NZT).
"We've got a strong group of boys heading into the finals which is definitely good for us as a club as well as a team.
"I'm looking forward to playing a part in that finals series after this weekend."
NRL: Warriors v Wests Tigers at Leichardt Oval, Sunday 8.30pm
Wests Tigers: 1. James Tedesco 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Esan Marsters 4. Kevin Naiqama 5. Malakai Watene-Zelezniak 6. Tuimoala Lolohea 7. Luke Brooks 8. Aaron Woods 9. Elijah Taylor 10.Tim Grant 11. Joel Edwards 12. Josh Aloiai 13. Matthew Eisenhuth.
Interchange: 14. Alex Twal 15. Sauaso Sue 16. Bayley Sironen 17. Jack Littlejohn 18. Ava Seumanufagai 19. Jeremy Marshall-King 20. Jj Felise 21. Watson Heleta.
Warriors: 1. Roger Tuivasa-sheck 2. David Fusitua 3. Blake Ayshford 4. Solomone Kata 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Kieran Foran 7. Shaun Johnson 8. Ben Matulino 9. Issac Luke 10. Sam Lisone 11. Bunty Afoa 12. Ryan Hoffman 13. Simon Mannering.
Interchange: 14. Mafoa'aeata Hingano 15. Charlie Gubb 16. Isaiah Papalii 17. Jazz Tevaga 18. Charnze Nicoll-klokstad 20. Chris Satae 21.James Bell 22. Mason Lino.
Referees: Adam Gee, Peter Gough.
Intrust Super Premiership - Week One Playoff: Warriors v Panthers at UOW Jubilee Oval, Sunday 4pm
Warriors: 1. Zac Santo 2. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 3. Matthew Allwood 4. Junior Pauga 5. Bureta Faraimo 6. Sam Cook 7. Mason Lino (c) 8. Patrick Sipley 9. Manaia Cherrington 10. Ligi Sao 11. Ofahiki Ogden 12. James Bell 13. King Vuniyayawa.
Interchange: 14. Toafofoa Sipley 15. Chris Satae 16. Albert Vete 17. Daniel Palavi 18. Semisi Fotu.
Panthers: 1. Tom Eisenhuth 2. Maika Sivo 3. Jed Cartwright 4. Tony Satini 5. Christian Crichton 6. Jarome Luai 7. Darren Nicholls (c) 8. Moses Leota 9. Mitch Rein 10. Sitaleki Akauola 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Kaide Ellis 13. Liam Martin.
Interchange: 14. Corey Waddell 15. Cowen Epere 16. Nick Lui-Toso 17. Oliver Clark 18. Lachlan Stein.