Rugby League

Canberra Raiders pack led by Generation Next as Junior Paulo signs

It wasn't that long ago the Canberra Raiders had the most experienced front row rotation in the competition.

But fast forward to next year and their pack will be spearheaded by Generation Next after confirmation Parramatta Eels prop Junior Paulo has signed for two years.

Warning: Junior Paulo, seen here playing for the Eels..
Warning: Junior Paulo, seen here playing for the Eels.. Photo: Getty Images

Paulo, still only 22, will join Paul Vaughan (24) and Shannon Boyd (23) in a young but destructive front row.

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has long been a fan of Paulo and handed him his NRL debut when he was Parramatta head coach in 2013.

"I debuted Junior when I was at Parramatta and I've always appreciated his ability," Stuart said. 

"It's wonderful for him to show some confidence in our club too."

Like Vaughan and Boyd, Queensland Origin back rower Josh Papalii (23) has re-signed until 2018, while former Newcastle Knight Joseph Tapine (21) signed just before the season started.

The departures of former internationals Brett White, David Shillington and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs have been replaced by a young crop, plus experienced heads Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Sia Soliola and Jeff Lima.

Sport.  Canberra Raiders player Paul Vaughan at Raiders HQ in Bruce.   14 March 2016.  Canberra Times photo by Jeffrey Chan.
Sport. Canberra Raiders player Paul Vaughan at Raiders HQ in Bruce. 14 March 2016. Canberra Times photo by Jeffrey Chan. 

"It's very important to have a strong forward pack here and it's obviously going to be good competition," Vaughan said.

"He [Paulo] is a big boy, he's obviously going to be very good for us. We're going to have a very good forward pack and a very big forward pack so looking at the future, it's very bright.

"It brings out the best in you personally and when you get out on the field against the best teams it definitely helps.

If you're not at your best there's always someone there to take your position."

Papalii has started the season in fine form, and his two tries just after half-time were crucial in Canberra's gutsy 21-20 win over Sydney Roosters on Saturday.

The Raiders have started the season 2-0 for the first time since 2005 and will start warm favourites against struggling Newcastle at Hunter Stadium on Saturday.

"We've always been a tight-knit group. I think everyone's working harder for each other this year and it's starting pay off," Papalii said.

"It's only early rounds and we're not getting ahead of ourselves.

"I've started my season a bit better than most year, and I'm pretty happy about that.

"He [Paulo] does add to the pack but that's next year, we're in 2016 and have to worry about that first.

"It's a scary thought when he does come, with the props we have for the next couple of years."

Vaughan is rated by many a NSW Origin star of the future, but insisted he's happy with his role coming off the bench.

Canberra's interchange has been hugely influential in the first two rounds, with Vaughan, Soliola and Lima churning through over 400 metres against the Roosters.

Back-up hooker Kurt Baptiste has been crucial when injuries in the halves have forced Josh Hodgson to play out of position.

"I think I'm playing pretty big minutes anyway," Vaughan said.

"The game this year [with reduced interchange], it's important to have an impact off the bench, those teams who don't have a quality bench have suffered a little bit."

The Eels released a statement on Monday confirming Paulo's departure at the end of the season.

"The Parramatta Eels made a substantial offer to retain Junior Paulo," the statement said.

"He is a Parramatta junior who was aware we were keen for him to remain in blue and gold for future years. Unfortunately, Junior made the decision not to accept this offer and join the Canberra Raiders from 2017 onwards.

"Junior will remain with the Eels in 2016 and has indicated to the club and his teammates that he is committed to give his best for the 2016 season."