Eels brace for old mate Paulo
Parramatta players are readying themselves to take on arguably the most dangerous forward pack in the NRL – one headed by one of their own in former Eel Junior Paulo.
The giant Cabramatta junior will face off against his old club for the first time on Sunday after being let go ahead of time as the club scrambled to get back under the salary cap.
He is just one (admittedly very large) threat in an in-form pack full of them, and no doubt every man in green on Sunday afternoon will be buoyed by a massive effort last Monday night in shutting down the benchmark Melbourne pack.
Eels forward David Gower is one of the men in blue and gold who will be tasked with trying to shut down the 123 kilogram Samoan international on Sunday.
"Big 'Junes' is going to be fired up. He's playing good footy too," Gower said.
"We know how good he is; he's got a big motor for a big man, he's got some nice ball skills as well. We're looking forward to playing him."
Gower joked he'd be just as happy for Paulo to pick out someone else in the defensive line but said the only thing you can do in trying to shut him down is just to get your body in front of him – and do so in numbers.
"He's a big boy so you've got to get your body in front and make sure we hit together I think, that's just the way we've got to handle their whole forward pack," Gower said.
"We need to defend as a team and as a middle unit especially and we're looking forward to doing that on Sunday."
He said Canberra are a great side playing with plenty of confidence at the moment.
"They've been building nicely over the year and that [win over Melbourne was] probably their best performance of their year."
While the Eels roster is now a markedly different one to the 17 that smashed the Raiders 26-6 at Pirtek Stadium in Round 6, Gower said that game would still give his team belief.
"We're going to take a lot of confidence out of the way we played them when we first played them in our first round so we're looking forward to the challenge," he said.
"We need to get back to playing that sort of footy and have that sort of intent in our defence and we're looking to do that this week definitely."
The Eels forwards are stinging after a second-half fade-out at Suncorp last week resulted in one of the team's worst results of the year and the blue and gold middles felt like they let the club down, according to Gower.
"We pride ourselves as a forward pack on being strong and being competitive each week that second half last week I felt like we let the boys down a little bit, there were a few soft tries through our middle and we pride ourselves on not allowing those sort of tries," he said.
"We're going to go out there on Sunday arvo down in Canberra and look to atone for that and they're a big side and we're looking forward to the challenge absolutely."
Winger turned five-eighth Clint Gutherson said Canberra's big win over Melbourne last Monday was a genuine warning shot to the rest of the competition.
"Their forwards are just getting them going so they've been pretty dangerous the last couple of months and they've sounded a real warning shot to all teams in the top eight. They're a big threat at the moment," Gutherson said.
"I dunno what they feed them down there, they're huge. With Junior and [Shannon] Boyd up front and then they come off the bench and their backs play off the back of that. They're working real well as a team at the moment and they've got good confidence."
Gutherson joked Paulo had gotten even bigger since he left Parramatta for the nation's capital.
"Junior's playing some great footy and it's good to see. It looks like he's enjoying his footy and it's good for him and his family," he added.
Both Gutherson and Gower welcomed the return of try-scoring winger Semi Radradra from a knee injury.
"It's a boost for us. Semi's been itching to get back the last couple of weeks and it's disappointing he hasn't played but it's good to get him back and hopefully he's fit for the last three rounds to help us finish strong," Gutherson said.
Gower said Radradra's return is "massive" for the Eels' chances on Sunday.
"[His hit-ups] out of the backfield especially. That's a massive strength of his, he gets us on the front foot and we've really missed him over the last month or six weeks," Gower said.
"The boys that have come in have done a great job but you can't replace Semi so we're really looking forward to having the big fella back."