Junior Paulo: I can't wait to play... at Suncorp
Parramatta prop Junior Paulo wanted just two things when he grew up as an unabashed Broncos fan in Auckland. It didn't take him long to realise number one was pure fantasy. After all, not many have worn Darren Lockyer's No.6 jumper – and lived to tell the tale.
"I pretty much followed him as a youngster, I was a big fan. But the last time I put on a number six jersey I was eight years old. Now I'm pretty much an eight or 10," Paulo laughed with NRL.com.
But the second goal – running out onto Suncorp Stadium – was quietly fulfilled in Round 5 last season when Paulo helped set up a dream win against Brisbane on debut.
"It was my first time there. It feels like it was so long ago, but it was only this year and we won by a try," he recalled.
To Paulo, however, he had won by much more than that. His desire to play in the NRL was born in the memories of him watching the likes of Darren Lockyer and Gorden Tallis continuously beat opponents into submission. So to grace the same field on the old Red Hill as his childhood heroes was a dream come true.
"They always seem to fill out the stadium, even for normal rounds," he said. "But just the atmosphere within the stadium. You see Origin games played there, Test games played there. It means a lot to me to be able to run out on the field that I watched a lot of games growing up."
Paulo moved across to Parramatta from Auckland in 2007 as a project front-rower, a young wrecking ball that was an instant hit in the National Youth Competition.
"I was born in New Zealand but played all my junior footy here at Parra. I followed the Broncos when I was much younger and pretty much when I started playing for Parra, Parra took over my whole life so I'm all about the Eels now," he said.
He came off the bench 11 times in his rookie season of 2013, before starting in nine of his 16 games last season and becoming a Brad Arthur favourite. Now looking to fully entrench himself in the top 17, the 21-year-old also can't wait to travel to Brisbane again in a Round 8 clash in late April.
"Suncorp would be outstanding to play again, I played there once this year so I'd like to play there again. Wayne Bennett is back too. He's a good coach so it'll be a big challenge. Hopefully I'll be there," he said.