MAKING A SPLASH
RISING Wallabies rugby star Taniela Tupou says he’s staying humble and not getting ahead of himself despite all the hype around him.
The Queensland-based 133kg powerhouse prop – dubbed the “Tongan Thor’’ by media – talks candidly ahead of tonight’s Gold Coast Test against Argentina about the step to international level, what he thinks of his nickname and how he feels about being dubbed the next big thing in rugby.
RISING Wallabies star Taniela Tupou is feeling right at home on the Gold Coast.
The 133kg prop – dubbed “Tongan Thor” by media and “Runaway Rhino” by teammates – has been based a block from Surfers Paradise beach with the team ahead of tonight’s Test against Argentina at Robina’s CBUS Super Stadium.
He couldn’t be more comfortable about the Wallaby’s temporary base.
He grew up in Tonga with a big family of three brothers and seven sisters living even closer to the water.
“The last week and a half, it’s been awesome, like home. My house in Tonga is the first house right on the beach,” he says.
“This place reminds me of being back home, you can wake up and go for a swim.”
The 22-year-old sensation who has rose to prominence with the Queensland Reds is relaxed and chatty, sipping on a mochachino at Longboards burger bar.
He laughs off being dubbed the Tongan Thor: “When they started calling me that I didn’t know what to think but then I got used to it.”
He laughs, saying he prefers ‘Runaway Rhino’ which has stuck since his schoolboy days.
But come kick-off at 8pm tonight his relaxed demeanour will be replaced by a steely focus.
Tupou has again been named on the bench, no doubt to be injected into the game early in the second half as he was in last week’s nailbiting win against the Springboks.
His impact was crucial in the 23-18 win, but nothing was more important than a final shove in a defensive scrum near fulltime when the Wallabies were under the pump.
Tupou had tweaked his neck and upper back moments earlier but rose to the final challenge set by captain Michael Hooper.
“It was sore. I had to tell myself ‘Do you want to do it or want to go off?’ I looked at the time and it was going to be the finish. So you do it, we did it, I had everyone behind me,” Tupou recalls of the moment he stood tall.
It hasn’t earned him a Test start tonight but he is excited
to come on again and “do my job”.
“At the moment I’m coming off the bench. I’ll do whatever. If I keep doing my job off the bench then the start will come.”
Many see it as inevitable – Gold Coast-based ex-Wallaby Mat Rogers told the Bulletin this week he was looking at Tupou to start “dominating in the middle”.
Similarly, run-on Wallaby prop Scott Sio said Tupou’s future was really exciting, noting he’s the quickest of the tight five and strongest guy in the squad.
“I marvel at how athletic he is at the size he is,” Sio said. “His potential is really up to him and what he wants to do with it.
“We just echo to him this level is about opportunities and making the most of it.
“His talent will take care of getting that opportunity and the hard work will be what keeps him there,” Sio said. Tupou reacts almost sheepishly when told Rogers expects him to dominate the middle at international level.
He laughs, ums and ahs, laughs again then says: “It’s good when someone like that thinks that about you but at this level you can be really good one game and really bad the next.
“For me, I just go step by step. Last week I did my job. This week is about being consistent and doing it again.” He’s looking forward to meeting the challenge posed by the Argentinian forward pack, coached by Mario Ledesma who was with the Wallabies up until last year.
“They are good, really good. I’m sure Mario will tell them my weaknesses,” Tupou says.
Asked if he actually has any, he laughs again: “I don’t know.”
He harks back to a recent bollocking he received via text from a big brother who read a media report proclaiming him as the best prop in the world.
“He was angry, he thought I had said I was the best prop in the world. He hated it. I didn’t say that.
“He sent me the longest text. I texted back and said ‘sorry I didn’t say that, I wouldn’t say that’.
“I just want to let my actions do the talking.”
So far, so good.
Wallaby prop Taniela 'Tongan Thor' Tupou is hoping to put the Argentinians on the back foot tonight. Picture GLENN HAMPSON
The ‘Tongan Thor’ is ready to strike.
In action against Ireland.
Wallaby new star prop Taniela 'Tongan Thor' Tupou shows his playful side frolicking in the sea at Surfers Paradise.
Taniela says a prayer after the Wallabies held on grimly to overcome South Africa in Brisbane last weekend.