New Zealand high school Rugby sensation Taniela Tupou will join the St.George Queensland Reds in 2015 after committing to Queensland Rugby for at least two years.
Commonly referred to as the ‘Tongan Thor’, Tupou turned heads in May when a video of him scoring a hat-trick for Auckland’s Sacred Heart College First XV went viral. He has since represented the Pacific Barbarians in an exhibition match against Tonga, alongside former All Blacks scrumhalf Justin Marshall.
The 135kg, 18-year-old prop grew up in Tonga, but joined Sacred Heart College on a scholarship in 2011, after touring New Zealand with the Tongan Under 14s.
His is currently in his final year of school and will join the Reds for pre-season after graduation.
Reds head coach Richard Graham said he was looking forward to having Tupou in the program and seeing him further develop and add to his already impressive skillset.
“We’ve been aware of Taniela’s ability since April when the Reds toured New Zealand. I think he is a phenomenal athlete and his YouTube clip in late May is a snippet of what he is capable of at this early stage in his Rugby career,” Graham said.
“Sam Cordingley (General Manager of Rugby Operations) has done an outstanding job in securing Taniela for the next two seasons. He has worked very closely with Taniela, his brother and his agent to ensure Taniela’s future development is in the Reds Rugby programs.
“Taniela’s signing is a strong show of support for the quality of our programs. It is well reported that the NZRU, European clubs and other Australian franchises were queuing up to have Nella (Taniela) in their programs.
“He understands there is a lot of hard work in front of him. James Slipper, Ben Daley and Greg Holmes are three outstanding role models for a young front row forward and he will enjoy working under the tutelage of forwards coach Nick Stiles.
“While he is a prop, if you look at some of the tries he has scored, he obviously has a fairly high regard for the likes of Will (Genia) and Quade (Cooper) also – he’s got a few moves.”
Although he grew up in Tonga and was schooled in New Zealand, two of Tupou’s siblings currently live in Australia and the young prop grew up idolising the Wallabies and always dreamt of one day representing Australia.
“I grew up in Tonga watching Wallabies and All Blacks games, I always supported the Wallabies because they had some great Tongan players,” Tupou said.
“When I think about the fact I’ve signed a contract with the Reds, I’m speechless. I’m just so excited to join the team, I can’t wait to meet everyone and start training. My goal now is to try and play for the Reds as soon as I can.”
While in dialogue with the Reds, Tupou also received some advice from Reds and Wallabies flyhalf Quade Cooper, who grew up in Tokoroa, New Zealand.
“Quade called me just to talk about Rugby and life. He offered me advice on what I have to consider when making the decision, rather than what decision I should make. He said me and my family were important to the decision and that I need to make sure I’m comfortable with whatever I decide.
“I started supporting the Reds in 2011, Quade and Will Genia are two of my favourite players.”
Tupou is one of several announcements to be made in the coming weeks, as the Reds continue to work on the final shape of the 2015 squad.