Parramatta forwards Junior Paulo and Nathan Brown dreamed of helping the Eels win a premiership and representing NSW at State of Origin while playing together for Cabramatta under 10s.
Paulo, the NRL’s most skilful prop, and Brown, the Eels enforcer, have been teammates for most of their careers since playing alongside each as juniors with the Two Blues.
On the eve of Parramatta’s qualifying finals clash against Melbourne at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night, the pair revealed that they were now on the eve of fulfilling a goal they had shared as kids.
“Me and Junior played together from Under 10s so to come through together from such a young age to be where we are now is pretty cool,” Brown said.
“Playing finals footy for Parramatta is something that we dreamt of as kids playing for Cabramatta together and to get to where we are now is amazing but it shows that dreams do come true because me and Junior dreamt about being in the position we are in today.”
Storm v Eels - Qualifying final
The Eels' success this season has been built largely on the back of their ball-playing forwards, with Paulo leading the NRL for most offloads after getting the ball away in tackles on 49 occasions.
Second-rower Ryan Matterson (31), Brown (29) and Warriors-bound prop Kane Evans (28) rank fourth, seventh and ninth respectively.
Many believe Parramatta boast the style of play under Brad Arthur likely to trouble the Storm.
“Brad gives us a licence to play footy but I wouldn’t be offloading the ball if you can’t sight your target” Paulo said.
“That is our main rule, you have got to be able to sight your target and find the pass, and not put the guys under pressure. We have got to be on the front foot before we start playing footy.”
Brown added: “One of our strengths is with the footy and just playing and creating opportunities, but that comes off the back of our defence.”
According to Paulo, he and Brown developed their off-loading skills at Cabramatta Sports Ground as juniors.
“When we played juniors together at Cabramatta, he was our five-eighth and I was a prop who played on the edge somewhere,” Paulo said.
“I was just more trying to catch a break out on the edges but somehow the ball would come out to me and we would just play footy.
“I think throughout our whole junior careers together there was not an exact position to play. It was more so just playing instinctive footy.
Outside noise won’t detract Parra's push for premiership
“I would just put on the jersey and play. It was just getting out there and having fun with your mates and that’s what I am still doing now. I am just enjoying playing footy with the boys.”
Brown, who shifted into the front-row after returning to league from a season off playing cricket for NSW Under 17s, said the game plan was simply to pass the ball to Paulo.
“Back in juniors he was three times bigger than I was,” Brown recalled. “I was the five-eighth and my job was easy. I used to just say, ‘Junior, here is the ball. Go and score’. I felt sorry for the poor little kids in those other teams.
“Junior was a big boy but he wasn’t slow, he was quite quick for a big guy and he used to run over about 10 boys every time he got the ball. He used to run amok on the field back then and he is still doing it now.”
The form displayed by the 123kg front-rower in Parramatta’s premiership charge this season is expected to earn Paulo a place in NSW’s 27-man squad for November’s State of Origin campaign.
The 26-year-old has played nine Tests for Samoa but he said it had always been an ambition to pull on a Blues jersey and backs a proposal to tweak representative eligibility rules so that Pacific Island players can represent their heritage and play Origin.
“With Samoa being a second tier nation I am still eligible to play State of Origin so for now I would be more than happy to take a NSW jersey,” said Paulo, who was born in New Zealand but moved to Sydney at a young age.
“It has always been a goal for me and I won’t stop until I get there. It is a goal leading into every year.
“I have heard my name be mentioned the past couple of years so you have to be doing something right to get a mention but it is a matter of enjoying my footy and if the rewards come off the back of that I will be happy.”
If the Eels defeat Melbourne on Saturday night, they will be just one win away from the club’s first grand final since 2009 and in sight of a premiership long-suffering Parramatta fans have been craving since 1986.
“It would be massive,” Paulo said. “Parramatta is a club I would love to win a premiership at. Everyone understands how rich in history the club is and there has been a long drought since they won a grand final.
“We all understand what the club’s successes have been throughout the 1980s and 1990s but we want to be able to write our own piece of history with the team that we have got here.”