Parramatta coach Brad Arthur has confirmed Junior Paulo has been pulled out of Monday’s NRL match against Newcastle at Hunter Stadium after requesting an early release to join Canberra.
Paulo’s management and the Eels are closing in on negotiations for the 22-year-old to join the Raiders mid-season, with emerging prop Daniel Alvaro to start in his absence.
Arthur admitted Paulo’s likely exit, just a fortnight after Nathan Peats was forced out of the club due to their salary cap breaches, was just another blow in a horror season.
But he also said it provided an opportunity for Alvaro to establish himself in first grade.
“It’s a loss, but it’s an opportunity for Daniel,” he said.
“The way Daniel finished last year, we thought we’d get plenty of footy out of him this year and he’s played a handful of games for us. One thing about Daniel Alvaro is he works really hard and he’s someone that the boys like playing with. It’s always an opportunity for someone else.”
While he conceded he is likely to lose Paulo’s services, Arthur denied commenting on speculation fullback Michael Gordon could be a third player to leave on a mid-season move to the Sydney Roosters.
“I’ve made a habit of not talking about contracts and that’s just speculation,” he said.
The Eels, who officially remain in sixth spot on the ladder until the club responds to salary cap breaches next month, take on the last-placed Knights, who are aiming to avoid a sixth straight defeat.
If they lose again, it will be the third time in three seasons that suffered more than five losses in a row, however Arthur is wary of a wounded outfit.
“They’ve definitely got some good young kids that they’re blooding at the moment,” he said.
“(But) if you have a look at their forward pack this week – I’m not sure if Jeremy Smith is playing – but it’s probably their strongest pack that they’ve had for some quite some time.
“They get a couple of blokes back. So in front of their home crowd, I’m sure they’re coming out ready to have a crack.”
Youngsters Cory Denniss, David Bhana, Jaelen Feeney, Pat Mata’utia and Sam Mataora have all been recalled to a 19-man Knights squad, while for the Eels, Vai Toutai deputises for NSW State of Origin centre Michael Jennings.
The Eels must win 12 of their final 13 remaining games to make the NRL finals.
STATS THAT MATTER
* Newcastle have won seven of its past eight encounter against Parramatta, but were last-start 28-22 losers in round seven last season.
* Parramatta have won just seven of 21 Monday night matches, dating back to mid-2011. They’ve conceded over 18 points in 19 of those games.
* Beau Scott will suit up against the Knights for the first time since leaving the club.