Eels utility and stand-in five-eighth Joe Paulo says a stint in NSW Cup with Wentworthville – where he was called upon to display leadership in some 80-minute efforts – has helped mould him into a player ready to take his chance on his return to first grade.
Paulo has been left out of Eels coach Brad Arthur's top 17 this year since Round 11 after playing the first 11, and missing just one of Parramatta's 72 games in the previous three seasons.
Paulo had come off the bench in all 11 games this year, often playing short stints, but after being dropped to Wentworthville and being called upon to play in the middle, making up to 50 tackles per game ("it's getting annoying," he laughed) he said he is match fit and hungry in his return to the top grade.
"When the coach told me I was playing five-eighth I just said I was ready," Paulo told NRL.com after his recall.
"It's been a challenging season, [losing] a few key guys with injury then for myself it's been hard. I just had to go back to enjoying my footy wherever that was, if it was playing Wenty or being 18th man, it's sometimes hard to get caught up wanting to do this, be here, do that.
"I'm just enjoying my footy and I told the coach I was ready whenever that call up came and that's this week so hopefully since I've been telling him I'm ready I can actually showcase it this weekend."
Paulo will combine with Luke Kelly in a new-look halves combination for the Eels minus Corey Norman (knee) and Chris Sandow (released) but said he had been given confidence by the backing of his coach and teammates.
Part of the reason for his stint in NSW Cup was a need to work on his defensive game and fitness, Paulo said Arthur told him, and is confident that has been improved.
"Playing 20 minutes, 30 minutes, it's hard to get that momentum," he said.
"Just playing 80 minutes at Wenty, it's really helped me, the fitness and having that work rate to work harder. Hopefully that can be pivotal to the way I play this week."
He said the big tackle counts playing in the middle of the field for Wentworthville would stand him in good stead.
"It's going to help me become fitter, work harder. It's been a challenge being the older guy there and just trying to help these younger guys because you can go back there with a damp attitude but just to play there with the young guys and see the way they looked up to me, it was good for me to take on that leadership role down there, and hopefully lead them and challenge them to be better players."
Paulo noted it has "been a while" since he played five-eighth – just over two years since he wore the blue and gold No.6 against Manly in Round 17, 2013, to be precise – adding "hopefully I've still got the skills and can keep up with the boys on the edge."
Paulo said his recall to the top side "couldn't come at a better time."
"I feel like I'm ready for this chance. I've been given the chance now from Brad. I just want to go out there and play my natural game and the boys have been supporting me all week while I'm trying to do that so it's been awesome that I can get this No.6 [jersey]."