This year, 19-year-old Pauli Pauli became the 760th man to pull on the Blue and Gold jersey and run out in first-grade for the Dyldam Parramatta Eels.
And now with second-rower Kenny Edwards sidelined with a fractured hand, Pauli’s first call-up to the starting side will see him run out in the number 11 jersey against the North Queensland Cowboys this Saturday night.
It’s a surprise to the young forward, who’s so far had his sights set firmly on earning the right to stay in the first-grade side and pull on the number 17 jersey every week.
With four NRL games under his belt, it’ll be a more confident Pauli Pauli who hits the field to take on the Cowboys, and not having to endure the nervous wait on the interchange bench might just make facing up to the likes of James Tamou or Tariq Sims a little easier.
“I was a bit nervous sitting on the bench [that first game] waiting for my opportunity to go on the field.” Pauli says.
“But once I crossed the white line, all the nerves went and I was excited to play, I really was.”
“And the next game, I was more comfortable ‘cause I was used to the boys and all the boys were encouraging me, helping me out.”
And when it comes to taking on some of the biggest and toughest players in the NRL, Pauli’s using the big hits as a learning curve as he looks to imitate the Eels’ own hard-running prop, Fuifui Moimoi.
“Yeah, sometimes it hurts!” Pauli says.
“But that’s part of the game. 20s is a bit slower than first grade, and it’s so good for my experience to come up here and see the difference.”
“I look up to Fui; even though he plays front row and I play second row I still look up to him. His hard running style, I want to imitate that same game style.”
He’ll have a chance to get a little closer to that goal this weekend, with just one digit on his jersey separating him and the Eels number 10, Fuifui Moimoi.