How finding a new source of strength saved 'Thor's' season

Super Rugby
by Emma Greenwood

He burst on to the international scene last year, Tongan Thor wielding his hammer-like hits with a brute strength rarely seen in Australian rugby.

But Taniela Tupou has realised that real strength is about more than just power.

Front-rower Tupou will be crucial for the Reds in tonight’s clash against the Jaguares at Suncorp Stadium, with the Argentinians boasting a near Test-strength pack.

And he heads into the game with his from on the rise after battling personal demons earlier this year.

Living on his own for the first time and with the self-imposed pressure of living up to his achievements last season, Tupou was drowning in self-doubt and worry until he found the courage to speak out.

"The start of this year was slow for me. There was some personal stuff, that was happening and it was really tough, it was hard at times and I didn't even know what to do there," Tupou said.

Taniela Tupou has rediscovered his happiness by finding the strength to speak out. Photo: Stuart Walmsley

Tupou was named Rugby Australia's rookie of the year, as well as Super Rugby player of the year last season and admits he found it difficult to live up to his own high expectations when he arrived back at Ballymore after his off-season break.

"It's so hard. There's obviously people having high expectations of me, trying to perform," he said.

"They're used to me being up there and last year I was player of the year and rookie of the year and coming into this season people expected me to perform.

"I wanted to come into this season and (play well) and in my head, I was like: 'I have to perform, I have to work, I have to do it'.

"I put so much pressure on myself and I guess it didn't help me."

That pressure told on Tupou, who dwelt on every negative to the point where it was becoming a problem.

"There were some games, I guess I played all right, but in my head, I was thinking: 'I didn't play good'," he said.

Taniela Tupou will face a SANZAAR hearing. Photo: Getty Images

"It was the first time that I'd moved out on my own and it didn't help to go back home after training or after a game and be by myself.

"But I'm finally enjoying my footy again and starting to play well again and hopefully I can maintain that for the rest of the season."

Tupou plays his best football when he's enjoying it. And that enjoyment has come from learning to let go.

"I've got to enjoy it (to play well) and I've got to talk to people when I'm going through tough times because one thing that I'm not good at is talking to people," he said.

"I thought talking to people was showing my weakness but not talking is actually showing weakness.

"Now I know I've got to talk to people and make sure I'm happy.

"If I'm not happy off the field I'm definitely not going to be happy on the field."

 

Tupou now knows speaking out is just as much as strength as any tackle or run he could make on the field.

"Now I've learned my lesson," he said.

"For other people out there, if you're going through tough times, it's pretty important to talk to people so they know you're in some dark places.

"Because that's what happened to me. I didn't want to talk to people and when I finally spoke up, it helped me and I'm here.

"And I'm finally starting to enjoy my footy again because I spoke to people. If I didn't do that, I don't know where I'd be right now."

Before an injury crisis tested the Reds’ front-row depth, Tupou was set to sit out several games.

But he ended up heading to South Africa in a move that provided the perfect tonic as he shared time and conversations with his teammates.

Taniela Tupou has found his happy place again. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley

"We went to Africa and I felt like it was good for me," Tupou said.

"I was with the boys for the whole time - the two weeks - and it helped me.

"And I just started enjoying my footy again."

Reaching out may have been difficult but it was a load off the shoulders of Tupou, who is striving to be back at his best ahead of World Cup selections to play for a gold jersey that would mean the world to the 23-year-old.

"I've (played for the Wallabies before) but in a World Cup, it's a different competition," he said.

"You'd be lucky to play one. And to pull on that jersey, it's an honour to play for Australia.

Queensland Wallaby hopefuls (l-r): Izack Rodda, Taniela Tupou and Lukhan Ssalakaia-Loto model the jersey Australia will wear in The Rugby Championship. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley

"I can't put it into words.

"It's an awesome opportunity for your family, for Australia."

And for one of the strongest men in footy.

Tupou and the Reds take on the Jaguares at Suncorp Stadium tonight, Saturday, June 1, kicking off at 7:45pm AEST live on Fox Sports, Kayo and via RUGBY.com.au radio.