NRL Rd 2 - Titans v Eels
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 22: Junior Paulo of the Eels takes on the defence during the round 2 NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the Parramatta Eels at Cbus Super Stadium on March 22, 2020 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The fight for star front-rower Junior Paulo is heating up.

The Parramatta Eels are desperate to keep the start prop, and to stem the bleeding following the losses of Marata Niukore and Isaiah Papali'i to the New Zealand Warriors and Wests Tigers respectively, and the reported loss of Reed Mahoney to the Canterbury Bulldogs.

The Eels still have plenty of talent off-contract at the end of the 2022 season, but there is no bigger name than Paulo left in the group.

Parramatta are understandably desperate to tie up the Origin prop on a new deal, but reports suggest they won't have it easy, with the Dolphins too starting to get a little twitchy.

The Dolphins have only signed Felise Kaufusi thus far and reportedly view Paulo as a pack leader, should they be able to land his signature, according to The Daily Telegraph's Phil Rothfield, who told Sky Sports Radio's Big Sports Breakfast that the Eels were under pressure to get the Paulo deal done this week.

“There’s huge pressure on the Parramatta Eels to land the signature of Junior Paulo this week after losing three really important player in the last three weeks,” Rothfield said.

“I’m told (Dolphins recruitment manager) Peter O’Sullivan and Wayne Bennett have gone in very, very heavy for Junior Paulo.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 27: Wayne Bennett poses for a photo with the revealing of the Dolphins Heritage Round jersey during a Dolphins NRL press conference at Suncorp Stadium on October 27, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

“They see him as the leader of the pack, they see what he’s done for that Parramatta Eels forward pack and saw his game against Penrith when a lot of people thought they were very unlucky not to beat them under high controversy during the finals series.

The Dolphins have seen him in the Blues jersey in Origin and they’re desperate to get hold of him.

“And what this has done is put enormous pressure on Parramatta. Public relations-wise, they cannot afford to lose another big player.

“So he’s got the whip hand, Junior Paulo and his manager Sam Ayoub... huge pressure on parramatta to keep Paulo away from the Dolphins.”

The Dolphins have so far missed out on Christian Welch and Patrick Carrigan - a pair of Queenslanders who were earmarked to lead the club in the front-row.

That has left Paulo as the best option to lead the forward pack, while the club continue to chase the remainder of their squad almost a month after negotiations were able to commence.

At Parramatta, the exits of Niukore and Papali'i, as well as the reported loss of Mahoney, should ease some of the salary cap tension, but it's unclear which way Paulo will go at this stage.