Junior Paulo breathes and bleeds Western Sydney.
He wears his heart on his sleeve
On his back, is a tattoo of the Western Sydney postcode where he grew up.
So, when he dropped the ball in the 79th minute when the score was 8-6, in the Eels’ elimination final against rivals the Penrith Panthers – it stung Paulo badly.
The pain lingered.
So much so, he re-watched the nail-biting final 20 times over, alone, to work through it.
“I blamed myself for weeks, but there’s more to life than footy,” Paulo said.
“I felt I was a big part (in the loss) … dropping that ball at the end, which was probably our last shot at winning the game.
“You have to own those moments and learn to live with it.
“It’s tough to live with, but eventually you get over it,” Paulo said.
Paulo is an Eels junior.
His rivalry with the Panthers goes further than last year’s final.
The ‘bit of hatred’ he has for the Panthers is deeply ingrained.
“Getting one over the neighbouring counterpart started for me from Harold Matts and right through the grades.
“You come up against Penrith and they’re the games you want to win,” Paulo said.
Sure, tomorrow’s trial against the Panthers at the foot of the Mountains is a trial.
It's the first time Paulo will co-captain the Club he loves.
But it’s a curtain raiser.
A glimpse of what the NRL season might hold.
And an opportunity for the Eels to take the first scalp of 2022.
“Western Sydney is home. A lot of people in the west have that connection through footy and how much it means to them.
“This battle of the west is very special.
“It’s always a tough road trip down the highway to Penrith. The crowd is always packed and they love their footy just as much as we do.
“But we know how much this game means to us.
“We just want to go out there, come away injury free and practice everything we have learnt in the off-season,” Paulo said.