Junior Paulo, if everything goes to script before the year ends, will hold the triple crown.
The Parramatta co-captain has the opportunity to not only hoist the premiership trophy, but to do likewise with the Rugby League World Cup and then become the last man to punch on with Paul Gallen.
“I’m not thinking that far ahead,” Paulo said. “The premiership win is the main one for me at the moment. That’s all I’ve got my eyes set on.”
While Paulo’s immediate focus is on Friday’s qualifying final clash against North Queensland in Townsville, the Blues prop knows this season could end like no other. Along with Clint Gutherson, he could become the first Eels skipper to hoist the trophy since Ray Price way back in 1986.
“We want to be a part of that and we want to create our own history,” Paulo said.
“What a sight that would be for the club and community. It’s been 36 years since the last one; you’d be lying if you said you don’t think about that when you head this deep into the year.
“You certainly want to hold that trophy up and give back. It’s all about creating our own history.”
There’s a chance to carve out further history at the season-ending World Cup. On Wednesday, Joseph Suaalii become the latest big name to pledge his allegiance to Samoa, joining the likes of Paulo, Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton, Izack Tago, Taylan May, Jarome Luai, Anthony Milford and Josh Papalii in doing likewise.
Suaalii’s decision is a further boost to the Pacific nation, which comfortably accounted for the Cook Islands during their mid-season international.
And then there’s Gallen.
Paulo has already fought the former Cronulla captain, who is contracted for one more bout before he retires. The Eels enforcer produced a strong performance when facing Gallen in his boxing prime, losing an epic slugfest on points in 2016. There have been talks of a rematch as a final opponent is considered for Gallen.
Junior Paulo has a big couple of months coming up.Credit:Getty
“Gal is as tough as they come; he’s certainly put a stamp on Australian boxing,” Paulo said.
“I don’t consider him as a rugby league crossover, I consider him as an Australian boxer who has done it all and been able to transition quite comfortably. He certainly showcases the toughness that he had on the rugby league field – he’s one of the most formidable opponents in Australian boxing.
“I guess if it happens, it happens. We’ll have to wait and see. For now, it’s rugby league that I’m enjoying.”
Paulo has been thriving under the additional responsibility of co-captaining Parramatta this season. Coach Brad Arthur, speaking during the club’s season launch, predicted it could propel the 28-year-old towards best-prop-in-the-game status.
“Looking back on it, it’s certainly helped me mature as a leader on the field,” Paulo said. “It definitely caught me off guard at the start of the year; I was more surprised than anything.
“It was a position that I definitely don’t take for granted, one I just want to nail, when you’re the leader and captain of a club.
Junior Pallen in the ring with Paul Gallen in 2016.Credit:Christopher Pearce
“It’s helped me mature as a footballer and also as the person I am away from the footy field.
“It’s a responsibility, and you have a lot more accountability with the club and everything you do away from the field. You want to be a leader who leads not just on the footy field, but also showcases the traits of being a leader away from it.
“It goes back to my kids as well, that father role. I’ve been doing a lot of work with the community, and you tend to look back years later and think how that captaincy evolves over the next few years for myself.”
When first called into Arthur’s office to discuss the leadership position, Paulo thought he was in trouble.
“I did,” Paulo said. “It was off-season; I was, ‘I’m sure I didn’t do anything wrong’.
“It’s about being a leader in our community and being a role model. The youth have an avenue to chase their dreams, whether it’s on the footy field or not. They can see themselves as leaders in whatever they are chasing in life.
“It’s been a learning curve for myself this year – I’ve only been in it for nine months. Most of my escape time is at home with the kids and family. I’m a big believer that a happy life off the footy field transitions onto the footy field.
“The younger Junior might have agreed to go to the pub for a couple of beers with mates, but now you realise the important things in life and what helps you on the footy field.”
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