Junior Paulo prepares for Canberra Raiders farewell
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Junior Paulo prepares for Canberra Raiders farewell

He is emotional now but Junior Paulo laughs his bottom lip won't be so shaky next year after Josh Papalii told him "it’s going to be pretty weird when I’m trying to take your head off".

The hulking prop will play his last game for the Canberra Raiders against the New Zealand Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium on Friday night.

Lit up in green no longer: Junior Paulo is leaving Canberra.

Lit up in green no longer: Junior Paulo is leaving Canberra.Credit:karleen minney

Then Paulo will return to the Parramatta Eels on a lucrative four-year deal, the club he left midway through 2016 after being issued a warning from NSW police for consorting with convicted criminals.

Uprooting himself from the temptations of Sydney was the best thing Paulo could have done. A move to Canberra saw him mature as a man and a football player. His partner Mele, and his two children Mario-Cade and Rosalina grew to love it.

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As emotional as Paulo will be to leave the Raiders, where he quickly became a fan favourite as one of the club's most damaging middle forwards, a return to Sydney is just what the 24-year-old and his young family needs.

"That’s the part that’s sinking in at the moment," Paulo said.

"We’re definitely enjoying our time together as a group but come next year, it’s going to be pretty awkward. Papa touched on it this week, he told me ‘it’s going to be pretty weird next year when I’m trying to take your head off’.

"We’ve really grown together as a group over the past three years that I’ve been here. I’ve definitely enjoyed my time here.

"[I'm] moving back to a place I’m definitely familiar with. The extra set of hands to help out with a young family [will help], back home to mum and dad, as well as my partner with her parents.

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"It’s definitely going to be an exciting move to go back, but part of me is still going to be sad we’re moving away from Canberra, being a place that really grew on us as a family.

"When we first got here we didn’t think we would grow to love Canberra, but looking back I think it has been the best move for us as a family."

Canberra's recent revival has seen the Green Machine claim the scalps of two premiership contenders as the Raiders look to send Paulo, Shannon Boyd and Blake Austin out as winners.

But much like Blake Austin said, and Josh Hodgson before him, Paulo has been left frustrated by how late the turnaround has come.

However the Samoan international still has his sights set on finishing his two-and-a-half season stint with the Raiders with a bang.

"It’s definitely been an emotional week, the bottom lip has been a bit shaky throughout the week," Paulo said.

Junior Paulo will return to the Eels.

Junior Paulo will return to the Eels.Credit:Renee McKay

"To be able to win the last two weeks, it shows what we’re capable of but it has definitely been disappointing as well, knowing what we’re capable of and just how this season turned out to be a ‘what could have been year’ for us.

"That’s the most disappointing thing, but it is definitely a good feeling to finish this season on a high and especially to finish it with the boys."

NRL ROUND 25

Friday: New Zealand Warriors v Canberra Raiders at Mt Smart Stadium, 6pm AEST. TV: Live on Fox League.

Caden Helmers is a sports reporter for The Canberra Times

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