Blues prop Junior Paulo drew inspiration from watching Saturday’s Pacific Test before helping to instigate NSW’s 44-12 thumping of Queensland in Perth on Sunday night.
Paulo, who admitted that he feared his job may have been on the line after back-to-back losses to the Maroons in Origin I and the Bulldogs five days later while playing for Parramatta, was the best forward as the Blues levelled the series.
NSW coach Brad Fittler praised Paulo at halftime for changing the momentum of the match when he came off the interchange bench in the 25th minute and after carrying the ball for just 33 metres in the series opener, the Eels prop ran 123 metres in Origin II.
Often at Origin level, because the teams are stacked with the best players, there can be a temptation to rely on skill and talent but someone still needs to do the hard yards, as Paulo did in Origin II.
His first run earned a six-again call and Paulo had another carry just a few tackles later that bent the Maroons defensive line out of shape.
He also managed an offload that helped create the opportunity for Nathan Cleary to grubber behind the Queensland defence for Matt Burton to swoop and score NSW’s first try in the 27th minute.
“I just had a run mentality,” Paulo said. “We always say that if you think ‘run’ first, the footy will come off the back of it.
“The boys who started in the middle laid the platform and set the tone early so I just had to head out there and run first.”
Fellow Parramatta forwards Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Ryan Matterson were dropped after the 16-10 loss at Accor Stadium, and Paulo realised he was fortunate to keep his spot in the 17-man squad – even if was replaced in the starting line-up by Jake Trbojevic.
What may have saved Paulo was his performance in the Eels 26-16 defeat of Parramatta the night before the team was chosen, in which he carried the ball 230 metres in 25 runs.
“You take confidence out of your performance the week prior, so you want to get back into the winning circle,” Paulo said.
“Obviously that was a tough week for myself after losing Game I and then losing to the Dogs, so you want that response.
“We don’t own the jersey that we run out in, we are just borrowing it, and you want to be able to do the job in the jersey. You have got the other guys in the 22-man squad and those players work hard.
“The criticism of Game I, we used as motivation, and the whole squad, 1-to-22, reviewed that and it was just about going out there and putting our best foot forward.
"We had nothing to lose, we just had to go out there and give it our all and leave nothing in the tank.”
Match: Blues v Maroons
Game 2 -
Venue: Optus Stadium, Perth
With the Blues in camp in Perth since last Monday, Paulo said they had watched the NSW women and the under 19s men’s and women’s teams win their respective Origins on Thursday and Friday before Saturday’s day of international action.
Many of the players in the NSW squad have connections to the Pacific nations, with Paulo being eligible for Samoa at the end-of-season World Cup, and he said they drew inspiration from watching the Tests.
“We all watched all the games throughout the week, and it was exciting to see the multi-cultural aspect within our game, and what rugby league brings at the international level. We are certainly building towards a brighter future,” Paulo said.
“It is always played with passion and the motivation aspect of wanting to go out there and represent your nation - or for us, it was about representing our state - and that is certainly what we took out of it.
"We just had to go out there and give everything that we had, and I thought we did that.”