Tonga v Samoa - Rugby League World Cup Quarter Final
WARRINGTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 06: Junior Paulo of Samoa leads the Siva Tau during the Rugby League World Cup Quarter Final match between Tonga and Samoa at The Halliwell Jones Stadium on November 06, 2022 in Warrington, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for RLWC)

In a year that saw him lead the Parramatta Eels to their first NRL Grand Final in over a decade and then captain Samoa to a historic Rugby League World Cup final appearance, Junior Paulo has been crowned rugby league's Ironman after making the most first-grade appearances in the calendar year.

Despite the intense demands of his role as a middle forward, Paulo will have made 36 appearances in 2022 after the final, having played 26 NRL games, all three State of Origin games, a trial match and what will soon be six World Cup appearances.

Three players will finish one short of Paulo on 35 games – Isaiah Papali'i, Josh Papalii and Oregon Kaufusi.

Paulo beat a number of other candidates to the honour, including Eels teammate Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Cowboys Valentine Holmes and Peta Hiku, Rabbitoh Keaon Koloamatangi and new Titan Kieran Foran.

“Junior is the style of front-rower everyone would want in their club,” Eels legend Nathan Hindmarsh told The Daily Telegraph.

“He has a smart footy head on his shoulders, has good footwork for a giant boy and has a big ticker as well.

“He's one of the fittest front-rowers for his size, if not the fittest going around. The amount of work he gets through is phenomenal for someone as big as he is.

“He's a different shape… Junior has that bulky fitness about him.

“He's probably the hardest bloke I've ever tried to tackle. His body is so thick and hard to wrap up, and he has that late footwork.”