Proud Samoan prop Junior Paulo says while he remains close to his Samoan roots, if push comes to shove his top representative allegiance is to where he grew up playing all his football – NSW and Australia.
The 22-year-old powerhouse was born in Auckland to Samoan parents but grew up in western Sydney and has already represented the Australian Schoolboys and played for NSW at under-20s level.
He was also 18th man for Samoa in May 2014 when they downed Fiji to book a Four Nations berth and this weekend officially makes his Test debut for Toa Samoa alongside clubmate Kaysa Pritchard and opposing Eels teammate Peni Terepo.
"The last one I was part of, I was 18th man when they played against Fiji to qualify for the Four Nations and just being part of that camp for that week was real inspiring and also a humbling experience to get a hold of your culture again," said Paulo, who grew up speaking both English and Samoan at home.
While Paulo feels very close to his Samoan roots through his parents he hasn't visited the island since 2006 and says the Pacific Test is both a chance to reconnect and – for those less aware of their traditional roots – a chance to learn more about their heritage.
"Both my parents speak Samoan as their first language at home so it's pretty much still there for me. But there's a lot of kids that aren't able to speak Samoan so it is a humbling experience for those that are born here or in New Zealand that haven't been back to the island," Paulo said.
"It's one of those experiences where you take a lot in and both countries [Samoa and Tonga] play with their nations behind them and it's real inspiring."
Of his own mixed representative eligibility options, Paulo said there is no question he is in a tricky spot given his options and background but his first choice is the region where he grew up and feels at home.
"My parents are both Samoan so that makes me Samoan – but I was born in New Zealand so that makes me eligible for three different countries but I've played all my footy here and I'll be happy to play here," Paulo said.
"I've played all my footy here in Australia so that probably typifies where I want to be playing. When the decision comes I'll have to make one on the spot."
Paulo agreed that Polynesian players can set a positive example for younger Polynesian kids in Australia but reaffirmed his loyalty to Australia long-term.
"I played all my footy out in the south west region and you play with a lot of kids who tend to fall away [from the sport] the older you get so we're trying to lay a platform for any Pacific Island kids coming through the ranks," he said.
"It's always going to be tough; it was for me at the time and it's going to be tough for these kids coming through. If we are setting an example, sort of being a role model for them then we're happy to do that.
"[Eligibility] is a tough one for me – like I said I've played all my footy here as well and I would love to represent the country where I've played all my footy but it's still a positive to play for my nation as well.
"I've got the choice to decide between three different countries but for me, I feel like I've been pretty much playing my footy here in Australia."