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How Souths junior Momirovski ended up on road to Panthers success

A raid by the Roosters pried Paul Momirovski away from the Rabbitohs and set the centre on a winding journey to potential supremacy with the Panthers.

An Alexandria Rovers junior who started out playing under-age representative footy for South Sydney, he will face his boyhood club in his first NRL grand final on Sunday night.

Having already been part of premiership-winning squads at the Roosters (2018) and Storm (2020), Momirovski will finally get to take the field in the decider at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium.

The 25-year-old's move across Anzac Parade leading into 2014 rankled the Rabbitohs and caused a spat with the Roosters, who poached Nat and Egan Butcher and Grant Garvey around the same time.

"They didn't like it. That was true," former Roosters recruitment guru Peter O'Sullivan, now with the Warriors, told NRL.com.

Paul Momirovski (back row, third from right) and Alex Johnston (back row, fourth from left) in Souths' 2013 SG Ball team.
Paul Momirovski (back row, third from right) and Alex Johnston (back row, fourth from left) in Souths' 2013 SG Ball team. ©Steve Montgomery/OurFootyTeam.com

"It was my job and our job at the Roosters to get the best players we could into our footy club. And if pinching their best kids was the way to do it, well, it was the way to do it.

"We probably made some really good offers back then that they [South Sydney] thought were quite high. But often the case with those offers, they turned out to be quite cheap. They were great kids."

O'Sullivan's faith in Momirovski was quickly vindicated as he co-captained the SG Ball (under 18s) team to a title in 2014 before featuring at five-eighth in the 2016 NYC (under 20s) premiership.

Coincidentally, they beat the Panthers in both grand finals.

Paul Momirovski on the run for the Roosters in the under 20s in 2015.
Paul Momirovski on the run for the Roosters in the under 20s in 2015. ©NRL Photos

'An old head on his shoulders'

"I watched him play over the years and he's just the ultimate pro, Paulie – even when he was a young fella," O'Sullivan said.

"We brought him into SG Ball and I clearly remember using him as an example to all the other players who were playing SG Ball and junior reps for us – the way he prepares, the way he plays.

"You see he's got great shape, he's got beautiful balance, he's got very good skill, he was very coachable ... He was always going to make it, but it took him a bit longer than I thought to get there."

Anthony Barnes, the long-time Roosters junior reps coach who has nurtured the likes of Victor Radley, Latrell Mitchell, Joey Manu and countless others, was struck by a teenage Momirovski's maturity.

"Very businesslike in everything he does and a good fella, but he's a sensible kid," Barnes said. "He still has a little bit of a laugh and a giggle, but he's more on the serious side.

"And they're always the ones that go good, the more mature ones. The thing with him is everything is sort of straight up and down.

How the Panthers win the 2021 grand final

"He runs good lines, but he just does everything right. He plays the ball, everything is at 100 per cent. It's all the little things.

"He doesn't leave anything to chance. He dots all the i's, he crosses all the t's, and he gets everything right. That's him ... I don't think there'd be anybody more professional than him.

"He's just got an old head on his shoulders. When you're coaching kids, it's not very often you get people come up to you and it's just like talking to an older person – they get it."

Paul Momirovski in action for the Wests Tigers in 2019.
Paul Momirovski in action for the Wests Tigers in 2019. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

Jeff Hardy, who coached Momirovski at Endeavour Sports High School, noticed similar traits beyond his years.

"Really mature, a great work ethic. Really coachable, wanted to learn, a great leader – had really good leadership qualities," Hardy said.

"You could see [the talent] was there, but he developed later. As he came through, he just got better and better. They're the ones that usually kick on and have a longer career."

Momirovski announced himself as a future star when he replaced the suspended Mitchell for the 2018 preliminary final in just his second NRL game, scoring a try in a win over the Rabbitohs.

Panthers v Rabbitohs - Grand final

"He was in the top players on the field that day," O'Sullivan said. "He just got the job done. That's what he's always done as a kid and he continues to do that today."

'He'd get belted by Jared'

Hayden Knowles, the current head of performance at Penrith who used to work for the Roosters, knew Momirovski had the mettle to make it in the NRL before he'd debuted in the big league.

He recalls watching the "skinny kid" copping repeated bumps and bruises without complaint throughout the 2017 pre-season.

"He'd turn up and just train with that intensity that the Roosters were known for back then. He'd get bashed by blokes like Jared Waerea-Hargreaves," Knowles said.

"I remember they'd put him in the halves sometimes on the opposing team [at training] and he'd get belted by blokes like Jared, but he just kept getting up, turning up every day.

"He showed that toughness as a kid, even though he must've been going home battered every single day."

Paul Momirovski makes a break for Melbourne in round seven of the 2020 season.
Paul Momirovski makes a break for Melbourne in round seven of the 2020 season. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Knowles reckons it's the same steeliness that allowed Momirovski to keep "hanging in there" as he went from the Roosters to the Wests Tigers and then Melbourne in a swap deal with Harry Grant.

The first three seasons of Momirovski's NRL career yielded only 19 games. He'll match that number for 2021 alone on Sunday.

Given an extended run in first grade, the wider rugby league community is seeing the ability that O'Sullivan – who tried to sign Momirovski to the Warriors last year – identified from an early age.

"I know he's been at some clubs that have had some grand final success and he's played in some prelims and that, but I think he totally deserves where he's at," Knowles added.

The boot of Momirovski lays on another crazy try

"There's a bit of a saying in footy: you get what you deserve. And he deserves it, that's for sure."

O'Sullivan echoed that statement.

"Whatever he gets in his footy, he deserves," he said. "He's just a wonderful kid."