Rugby League is one of the most physically demanding sports. In a typical game, players run up to 20 kilometres and during a tackle are subject to the same g-force as a car crash. Add to this a 26-game regular season, plus finals and representative footy spread out over an eight-month calendar and you have a gruelling sport if there ever was one. Playing in the NRL takes a level of dedication and commitment that very few have mastered.
Junior Paulo and Victor Radley are two of the NRL’s fiercest enforcers and know what it takes to make it at the top level. The pair of forwards are finding their form in the NRL’s preseason ahead of another arduous year, which kicks off on March 2nd. Men’s Health had a chat with the duo for an insight into their preparations, ambitions and predictions for the year ahead.
Junior Paulo and the Parramatta Eels came agonisingly close to grand final glory in 2022. Eventually going down 28-12 against the back-to-back champions and Western Sydney rivals Penrith Panthers. Paulo was adamant when asked if the Eels’ goal was to go one step further and win the NRL Premiership in 2023. “Yes, it is.” Paulo said. “Falling short last year comes as more motivation and drives my hunger to be there again.”
Weighing in at 124kg, Paulo is one of the league’s biggest players. The 29-year-old has represented New South Wales in State of Origin and captained Samoa to the World Cup final last year. He’s earned a reputation for his unflinching work ethic, mountainous build and hard-hitting playing style. That’s the result of always giving 100% in training, “They say you’ve got to be able to train smarter. But I’ve always been about just ripping in and getting the job done.” Paulo said.
After an exhaustive 2022 season which saw him play in State of Origin, the World Cup and all the way to the NRL grand final, Paulo is confident that fatigue won’t slow him down. “You’ve definitely got to put the hard yards in early. It’s been harder with a shorter preseason that’s been a lot more jam packed than usual, but everyone’s hit the ground running coming back.” Paulo says that playing in the World Cup in the offseason actually helped him stay in shape, rather than exacerbating burnout. “I think it’s probably been easier to maintain my form. I had the World Cup and was a lot more active, which makes it easier to come back.”
Paulo isn’t shying away from being confident in his team. “Everyone’s got an idea of where they want to be at the end of the season and the boys are all eager to put in another solid year.” He also made a big prediction for this year’s Dally M medal. Picking teammate Mitchell Moses, who signed a new contract with the Eels worth $1.25 million a year this week. “I’d go with my teammate Mitchell Moses. He’s in for another big year.”
With a star studded back line and the additions of Brandon Smith and Dominic Young in the offseason, Victor Radley’s Sydney Roosters enter the 2023 season as one of the favourites to win the Premiership. And Radley says the players know it. “It’s pretty clear at our club that from the first day, our goal is to win.” He added that “Anything short of winning the premiership isn’t good enough.”
Despite only being 24 years of age, Radley is already entering his seventh season in the NRL. Accordingly, he knows what he has to do to stay in shape over the offseason. “I don’t train like I do during the season, I just try to have a healthy lifestyle and not lay on the couch eating and drinking all day.” Although he admitted that “I probably put a few kilos on, but I keep myself pretty fit.”
Radley is confident in the Roosters abilities. So much so that he had trouble narrowing down which of his teammates he believes will win the Dally M medal, before settling on a dark horse. “I’ve got to go with Joey Manu. After he won the Golden Boot at the World Cup, he’s going to be incredible.”
Rugby League Experts Predictions for the 2023 Season
We also spoke to several Rugby league legends and expert analysts to get their picks for a momentous NRL season.
Premiership Winners: South Sydney Rabbitohs
Dally M Winner: Latrell Mitchell
Bryan Fletcher spent three seasons playing for the Rabbitohs. And it’s clear where his affections lie. Fletcher has not only tipped the Rabbitohs to go all the way in 2023, he’s also picked their star fullback Latrell Mitchell to take home the Dally M medal.
Premiership Winners: Sydney Roosters
Dally M Winner: Nicho Hynes
Legendary prop Steve Roach picked Radley’s Rooster’s to win the 2023 Premiership and he didn’t take long to answer when we asked. He’s also tipping Nicho Hynes to go back to back as Dally M winner, citing the Cronulla Sharks star’s impressive preseason form.
Premiership Winners: Melbourne Storm or Sydney Roosters
Dally M Winner: Harry Grant or Cameron Munster
Cooper Cronk played for two teams in the NRL. The Melbourne Storm and the Sydney Roosters. It’s no surprise that he’s backing either the Storm or Rooster’s to finish on top in 2023. Although he’s more inclined to back Storm superstar’s for the Dally M medal, settling on Harry Grant and Cameron Munster.
Premiership Winners: Cronulla Sharks, Sydney Roosters, Penrith Panthers, or South Sydney Rabbitohs
Dally M Winner: Nicho Hynes
Matty Johns had a difficult time narrowing down his pick for 2023 premiers. Instead, he’s named a list of contenders he believes will be the teams to beat this season. He’s chosen the defending champion Panthers, Radley’s Roosters, the Rabbitohs and Nicho Hynes’ Sharks as the likely heavyweights.
The 2023 NRL season kicks off next Thursday, March 2nd when Paulo’s Parramatta Eels take on the Melbourne Storm at CommBank Stadium. Catch the opener and every other game on Fox League, which is available to watch on Foxtel and Kayo Sports. With every game of every round live and ad-break free.