Bulldogs fans have been desperate for something to cheer about for almost a decade – and local junior Paul Alamoti might just be the answer to their prayers.
The 19-year-old has been tipped for immediate success in the top grade and is highly-regarded within the four walls at Canterbury, ever since joining the club in his early-teens.
Alamoti has come through the ranks at the Dogs, playing in all of their junior representative sides, before making the jump to NSW Cup in 2022 and starring with four tries and four try assists in just 15 games.
The near-100kg centre is a handful for opposition defences due to his power and speed, making him one of the most promising young stars in the NRL.
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Speaking exclusively to The Sporting News prior to the season, Alamoti expressed his gratitude towards Canterbury and his desire to help them turn things around on the field.
“I came over when I was 11 to Bankstown Bulls, I had a mate that was playing over there…I played there for a couple of years and then we went over to Milperra Colts,” he said.
“I did all the development squads, Matts, Ball and played one game of Flegg and now I’m here. Not everyone can say that they started at the junior club and then worked their way up to the NRL top squad…it’s a good feeling.
“I played the NRL trial last year and before that I had only played a couple of games of SG Ball, got injured and had a year off. When I came back from my injury into Cup, it was a massive jump – there is a massive difference in the strength and speed of the game.
“I was going up against men who are in and out of first grade and whose bodies are fully-developed and I’m just a young pup in the game. It was a good challenge and I loved every moment.
“I was very grateful to the club for giving me the opportunity. I feel like it took me a couple of games just to ease into it, but I feel like the back-end of the year I came good.
“I had an injury after the U19s Origin but when I came back from that, I felt like I was flying at the back-end of the year.”
With highlight reels surfacing at a young age and NSW Origin under-age selections coming his way, Alamoti was seemingly destined for greatness before he was even allowed to hold a driver’s licence or drink a beer.
But the rising star never bought into the hype and credited his tight family unit for keeping him grounded as his rapid rise through the grades at Canterbury continued.
“I never really bought into any of that – my family keep me grounded and my dad has always been strict with me,” Alamoti said.
“Every time he felt like I fell out of place, he would always bring me back in. I found them being very supportive – I have a very tight-knit family and everyone has just kept everything in-house, so I don’t feel any added pressure.
“My old man has been the best person. Since he was young, he has always invested so much time into me – everything I needed for footy, basketball and school he has always been there for me.
“He has given me every opportunity that I have gotten now and he has pushed me every single time.
“Everything I have now, I owe it all to him.”
Canterbury have gone through sweeping changes both on and off the field, with a major recruitment drive and a new head coach in Cameron Ciraldo hopefully set to help them back into the finals.
The club have also appointed Raymond Faitala-Mariner as ‘club captain’ as well as bringing in old head like Willie Mason and Andrew Ryan to instil the ‘Bulldogs DNA’ into the current group.
Alamoti believes things are heading in the right direction off the field, which can only lead to better results on it.
“You can feel the DNA of the club is slowly coming back,” he said.
“There’s a lot of connection that Ciro [Cameron Ciraldo] has brought in and everyone has bought into that. There has been a real team environment around the joint, everyone has gotten closer – the boys have bought into everything.
“He’s very approachable and I feel like I can talk to him as a mate – that connection there is really good. He has helped me massively with my defence mainly and that was probably my Achilles heel last year.
“Mase [Wilie Mason] has been massive around the club in pre-season. Ever since he has come in, he has brought that old DNA back from when he was playing.
“He has been massive – every now and then he pulls me aside and has a chat to me, just about life experiences and footy stuff and how to be a professional.
“Our skipper Ray has been the best. He has been a guardian angel for me ever since I came in and did my first NRL session a couple of years ago. He was the first guy that looked out for me, he took me under his wing – especially this whole pre-season.
“Every week he has a little debrief with me about things I need to improve on and things I’m doing well.”
Alamoti is full of confidence heading into the club’s opening-round clash with Manly, where he is expected to earn first crack at the vacant centre position following departures of Aaron Schoupp and Corey Allan in the off-season.
A true student of the game, Alamoti has been looking at players from the past and the present in order to ensure he can match it with the best outside backs that the NRL have to offer in his rookie campaign.
“GI [Greg Inglis] is just the best left centre – everything that he had in his game was all class,” he said.
“Good running game, very strong defensively – I’ve done a lot of video on him.
“Recently it’s been Justin Olam and Joey Manu, probably the two best centres of the last three or four years and I have been watching a lot of video on them and Stephen Crichton as well.
“I’m just learning little tips off them and trying to be better and add anything I can from them to my game.
“I want to play Round 1 now and cement my spot in the 17 for the 2023 season, and hopefully kick on from there.”