NRL: Third grade rugby coach takes blame for Paulo breaching his contract

By Nick Walshaw

Eels forward Junior Paulo fends off the attempted tackle of Storm forward Kevin Proctor. Photo/Getty.
Eels forward Junior Paulo fends off the attempted tackle of Storm forward Kevin Proctor. Photo/Getty.

A third grade rugby coach has taken all blame for Parramatta enforcer Junior Paulo breaching his NRL contract, saying: "I just wanted my boys to play alongside a superstar".

Speaking with The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday night, a contrite Hendry Lees was headed off to front his own judiciary hearing after allowing Paulo, his brother-in-law, to play for Oatley thirds at HV Evatt Park.

While the Eels are unlikely to punish 22-year-old Paulo too harshly - given they have a bit on - Oatley thirds could still be fined, docked points, even punted from the competition altogether.

But let's hope not.

Especially when Lees' reason for playing the 118kg enforcer ... well, it goes to the heart of what sport is about.

"I just wanted my boys to play alongside a superstar," he said on Wednesday night. "I know it was wrong.

"But everyone, just once, would like to say they played alongside someone like Junior.

"We're obviously close so when he came along to our game on the Saturday and there was a few minutes left, I said 'go on, jump in'. Somebody told me not to do it but, yeah, I did it anyway.

"Now I have to face the music."

And fingers crossed the rugby suits go easy on him.

Understanding that while they may be defending premiers, Oatley are also the living, breathing embodiment of 'Thirsty Thirds'.

"We only play to have a laugh and a drink," Lees continued. "Our team, we're all normal guys in our 30s.

"We don't even train.

"We get together Thursday nights and play touch, that's it. On Saturday we were winning 17-10 so, with a couple of minutes left I just wanted to let the boys have a bit of fun."

And so with that, he encouraged Paulo, hidden beneath headgear, to enter the fray. His Oatley thirds debut coming 24 hours after helping Parramatta beat Canterbury 20-12 at ANZ Stadium.

"But he didn't do much," the coach insisted. "I actually told him not to go hard. Just have some fun.

"That way I didn't think anyone would notice."

Asked if he had been in touch with Paulo after the news broke on Wednesday, Lees added: "We texted each other today.

"He just asked if I was alright and I did the same. I'm just hoping he doesn't get into trouble.

"If there are going to be consequences it should be on me.

"I'm actually headed off to my judiciary hearing now. I'm thinking I could be in trouble."

An NRL spokesman said on Wednesday night Paulo, who is headed to the Canberra Raiders next year, would not be punished for the cameo, insisting the issue was "an Eels matter".

Given Paulo confessed immediately to his rugby appearance, he is unlikely to be fined when he faces a disciplinary hearing early next week.

Indeed, given the Eels ongoing salary cap drama, it is unlikely the matter will cause a ripple among those currently charged with getting the club playing for points by Friday night.

- news.com.au

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