Family behind Tupou's rugby success

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

For Taniela Tupou, family is everything.

The ninth of 11 children, Tupou is still in awe of his mother Loisi and the sacrifices she made to ensure all of the Tupou children grew up healthy and happy.

His father, Malakai, passed away in 2005 when Taniela was just nine but he still holds a special place in the powerful prop’s heart.

Tupou paid tribute to his father after winning two gongs at the Rugby Australia Awards on Friday night and choked up speaking about his family both in his speech and speaking to media later.

It’s rare to find an interview where Tupou doesn’t mention his family - Loisi travelled to Brisbane for the first time in June to see his Test debut and he was with one of his brothers when he received the call to join the Spring Tour last year too.

He still speaks to Loisi most days and jokes, like most adults living away from home, that he answers most of the time.

“Sometimes, it's like "Mum just give me a break," but she always messages, she always calls,” he joked.

“Not always, but 90 per cent of the time I answer her call.”

And when he’s asked what motivates him in training and games, he doesn’t have to think about it.

“I know how it feels to have nothing because when I grew up, I had nothing back home and to be able to have all this and it seems like I can help my family to have a life,” he said.

“I get emotional when I talk about my family. I think when I go through tough times at training or games then I think of my mum and the hard work and struggles she has to go through for us.

“There's 11 of us and I'm one of the youngest, so  you can imagine that she didn't work and I don't know how we survived.

“So, when I'm struggling I think of my family and that just makes me keep going.”

Loisi and his two younger sisters were left without a home after Cyclone GIta tore through Tonga in February and Taniela is helping to do whatever he can to help rebuild.

They have managed to build a temporary house but there is work to do before they have a cyclone-proof home.

“We had the cyclone back home and me and my brother went back home and we built this house but it's not as strong - just for something for them to stay for now,” he said.

“We're going to try and rebuild it next year.

“It's just one for the next 2-3 years and we're going to rebuild the proper house, so we're hoping to do it as soon as possible before another cyclone comes to Tonga.”

“I'm hopeful - I'm trying to save up here, hopefully we can have enough to build a proper house for my mum and hopefully buy a car and I can look after myself after that.”

Tupou will play a critical role in the Wallabies' run to the Rugby World Cup next year and said he was ready step up on the field.

"I have been lucky enough to start all the games for the Reds this year and had some alright games and I have to pick it up next year for the World Cup," he said.

 "If I want to be in that squad, I need to perform and do better than I did this year."