Ever since Rugby Union went professional in 1995 and the Bath vs Wigan ‘Clash of the Codes’ matches in 1996, there has been a healthy trickle-over of talent stretching across both sides of the divide.
Players went from Union to League, League to Union and often back again as the 15-a-side and 13-a-side versions of the game lost over a hundred years of animosity and bigotry, each becoming more welcoming to the other.
However, Oatley Rugby Union coach Hendry Lees took this mutual admiration a little too far when he sent on a substitute to play out the final 20 minutes of the game. The substitute in question had been running water for Oatley, a third-grade Sydney-based team.
In what was akin to something out of an Adam Sandler movie, the coach motioned to the waterboy and told him to get ready for his 20 minutes-or-so of fame. But this was no ordinary waterboy, not any ordinary waterboy by any stretch of the imagination.
From the touchline comes on Junior Paulo, beast of an NRL prop for the Parramatta Eels and soon-to-be Canberra Raider from the 2017 season. Paulo got onto the field of play for 20 minutes at the end of the game as a favour for coach Lees, his brother-in-law. His cameo appearance, whilst wearing a scrum cap as part of his ‘disguise’ and registered under an actual Oatley player’s name came the day after the powerhouse prop had played 44 minutes of an Eels game, making 13 runs for 131 metres and having made 16 tackles.
Coach Lees, as per a Guardian article, justified sending on 22-year-old NRL star Paulo by saying: “I just wanted my boys to play alongside a superstar,” he told News Corp Australia on Wednesday night. “I know it was wrong. But everyone, just once, would like to say they played alongside someone like Junior.”
The Parramatta Eels have confirmed that they have launched an internal investigation into the events surround this incident, a move which satisifes the NRL who say they will not sanction the player for what equates to a breach of his playing contract with a spokesman saying that “the club are dealing with the matter.”
New South Wales’ suburban rugby union competition manager Tim Richards called the decision by Lees to allow the powerful rugby league player to take to the field “sheer stupidy” adding that “Coaches and club officials have a duty of care to ALL players – their own and opposition alike.”
On Twitter, rugby league fans have been quick to get their quips in regarding Junior Paulo’s brief rugby union career.
— Booze Hound (@Booze__Hound) May 10, 2016
Imagine being a dud, hungover, washed up third grade rugby player, looking across the field and seeing Junior Paulo running at you
— Nick Campton (@campo37) May 10, 2016
Huge congratulations to Oatley Rugby Club, who have third grader Junior Paulo playing NRL for Parra tonight. Great effort! #NRLEelsSouths
— Will Sinclair (@sinclair_will) May 13, 2016
Junior Paulo himself broke his silence to give his side of the story in what he says was only bit of a lark around, nothing too serious. Quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, Paulo said: I went out to watch and the next thing you know they asked if I wanted to have a little muck around. It was nothing serious for me. I played the game as a junior as well so it was just something that happened. One minute I was running the water and the next thing I was lacing up the boots and on the field. I think the final score was 17-10. It was good to get two wins that weekend.”
The last word goes to the man himself who explained away his choice of headwear saying,
— Booze Hound (@Booze__Hound) May 13, 2016