‘Taniela’ Tupou is a gentle giant of a man who has realised the enormous potential that engulfed him as a schoolboy.
Tupou first came to prominence as a member of a Tongan U15s tour to New Zealand. Not surprisingly he was quickly signed to a scholarship at Auckland’s Sacred Heart College. In 2014, and at just 18 years of age, Tupou became an overnight YouTube sensation after video of the 135kg prop’s three tries against Kelston Boys High School hit the web. That footage triggered a ferocious battle to secure the future of a clearly prodigious rugby talent. Eventually family and Australia won out after an eligibility clause prohibited him from play for NZ Schools. Tupou’s brother Criff lived in Brisbane and his idol Quade Cooper played for Queensland, so he signed with the Reds for the 2015 season.
Tupou later revealed that his heart was always with the Wallabies. “There was a reason why I moved here,” Tupou said. “As a young boy from Tonga all I wanted to do was play for Australia.”
In 2017 that dream became a reality when he played his maiden Test against Scotland at Murrayfield and two years later he won selection to his first Rugby World Cup. Since that tournament Tupou has taken his game to a whole new level, particularly in terms of physicality, endurance, and ball play. In 2020 his week-in, week-out performances for the Reds during Super Rugby AU were a sight to behold and it was no surprise when he was a runaway winner of the Pilecki Medal, awarded to Queensland’s players’ player of the year. As if to prove that was no fluke, he won the medal again in 2021.
Unfortunately, a ruptured Achilles tendon - suffered in the narrow loss to Ireland on the 2022 Spring Tour - has put his participation in RWC’23 on tenterhooks.
2017 Having served his three-year residency eligibility period Tupou was formally selected in the Wallaby squad for the end-of-season Spring Tour. He won his first Test cap off the bench when he replaced Ben McCalman (due to tight-head prop Sekope Kepu’s red card) in the loss to Scotland in Edinburgh.
2018 Tupou collected 10 Test caps, four as the starting tight head prop and six as a replacement. A hamstring injury suffered in the captain’s run ahead of the first Bledisloe Test ruled him out for the opening two matches of The Rugby Championship.
2019 He earned a further eight caps, all as a replacement tighthead, however the start to his first Rugby World Cup tournament was upset when he suffered concussion in a training mishap to miss the crucial pool match against Wales.
2020 Tupou was capped in all six Tests of the COVID-interrupted season. He started in three, the first two Tests against New Zealand and the first match against Argentina.
2021 Tupou won a career high 13 caps and he only missed the away match against England due to concussion protocols. Tupou provided a Wallaby’ ‘highlight reel special’ in the second Test against South Africa at Suncorp. With Australia clinging to an 18-17 lead in the 61st minute, Tupou received the ball 40 metres out and seven meters in from touch. He charged 15 metres forward and then threw a “showtime’, “box-office”, no-look, one-handed pass to Marika Koribete who raced away to score the try.
2022 In a season that was interrupted and ultimately ended by injury, Tupou still managed to play nine Tests. A calf injury suffered in the half-time warm-up of the second South Africa international ruled him out of that match and the two Bledisloe Cup fixtures before he did his Achilles in Dublin.