MAK­ING A SPLASH

Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin - - FRONT PAGE - RYAN KEEN

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

Pic­ture: PHIL HILL­YARD

The ‘Ton­gan Thor’ is ready to strike.

In ac­tion against Ire­land.

Pic­ture: GLENN HAMP­SON

Wal­laby new star prop Taniela 'Ton­gan Thor' Tupou shows his play­ful side frol­ick­ing in the sea at Surfers Par­adise.

Pic­ture: CHRIS HYDE/GETTY IM­AGES

Taniela says a prayer after the Wal­la­bies held on grimly to over­come South Africa in Bris­bane last week­end.

Train­ing hard.

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