Mal Meninga Medallist Junior Paulo star struck by Canberra Raiders legend Mal Meninga

Mal Meninga Medallist Junior Paulo star struck by Canberra Raiders legend Mal Meninga

Canberra Raiders beast Junior Paulo was star struck standing next to the man whose name was on the medal he was about to receive and sweating on whether that same man would give him an international call-up.

But the newly crowned Mal Meninga Medallist will have to wait a little while longer for either a Prime Minister's XIII or Australian Kangaroos jersey.

Junior Paulo and partner Mele Paulo celebrate him winning the Mal Meninga Medal.

Junior Paulo and partner Mele Paulo celebrate him winning the Mal Meninga Medal.Credit:Brendan Esposito NRL Photos

Raiders second-rower Josh Papalii is set to be the only member of the Green Machine named for the PM's game against Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby on September 23.

Paulo, fellow big bopper Shannon Boyd, captain Jarrod Croker and young gun Nick Cotric were all overlooked.


Aaron Woods and Andrew Fifita look set to be named in the starting front row when the team's announced on Wednesday at 7am.

But it's hard to imagine his omission will dampen an emotional Paulo's mood after he joined the ranks of Meninga Medallists, which includes some of the greatest players to ever play the game.

Ricky Stuart, Laurie Daley, Bradley Clyde, Steve Walters and Gary Belcher form a who's who of Canberra and Australian rugby league.

Now the 187-centimetre, 123-kilogram wrecking ball's frame stands alongside those prestigious names.

"That was one of the biggest star struck moments when I was up on stage next to Mal." Paulo said.

"People say I sweat in front of the cameras, but I was sweating because I was next to Mal - trying to put in some brownie points.

"To be held up with the likes of those kind of players and people of the past, you really take into account what the club's been building here. To be able to be labelled next to them is definitely something special."

There were two key factors in why Paulo was so emotional when he received the award - one because it showed the high regard his Raiders teammates held him in and the secondly because of his journey off the field.

The 23-year-old moved to Canberra to create a better life for his young family after he'd had a few off-field troubles at his old club Parramatta.

They led to him joining the Raiders midway through last season - ahead of his signing for the 2017 campaign.

But the support he'd received from the club has him looking to extend his time in the ACT beyond the end of his current contract, which expires at the end of next year.

"I was about to bring out the waterworks up there on stage, but it's one of those awards that you really take into acknowledgement because your teammates have voted," Paulo said.

"[The move to Canberra] really helped me away from the footy field. I've had my troubles away from the footy field, but part of the move to try and find myself and find the reasons why I do love playing - and I definitely found that here.

"I moved away to a place I've never been to before and certainly away from family and into an uncomfortable environment.

"To be able to find myself and try to find my feet as well as cementing my spot as a first grader regularly that was something I wanted to do when I got here. I'm just really privileged to be a part of the Raiders."

He was surprised to claim the award, having just edged out Canberra rookie-of-the-year Cotric by one vote.

Paulo said while they were gutted not to play NRL finals they would learn a lot from their tough year.

"To be out of the finals really sucks ... we're definitely disappointed where we're at at the moment, but the disappointment comes because we know what we're capable of," he said.

David Polkinghorne covers the Canberra Raiders, local rugby league, Canberra Cavalry, racing and cycling, along with every other sport, for The Canberra Times.