In words that send shivers down the spine of Australian rugby fans, Taniela Tupou has said he is “ready for a change” when his contract runs out after next year’s Rugby World Cup.
The Wallabies star is one of the most sought-after rugby players in the world, a destroyer on the pitch and a marketing dream off it.
Securing the dynamic prop’s long-term signing is a top priority for Rugby Australia and in an interview with Wide World of Sports, Tupou made it clear he was ready to spread his wings.
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The silver lining for Australia, however, is that Tupou is also open to the idea of a flexible contract with a sabbatical similar to Michael Hooper who enjoyed a season in Japan last year.
“They approached me asking me to stay here for a few more years,” Tupou told Wide World of Sports.
“I have this year and next year, so I’m in no rush to sign a deal. Now that I have a family, I’ll do what’s best for me and my family, if that means stay or go somewhere else.”
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Tupou, 25, and her partner are expecting their first child on July 9 – on the same day the Wallabies face England in the second of three Tests at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
The ‘Tongan Thor’ has said he wants to play overseas ‘100 per cent’ at some point in his career after moving from New Zealand to Australia in 2014 and only playing for Queensland Reds since 2016.
“I think I’m ready for a change. I’ve been in the same place for almost nine years now, so I’m looking forward to seeing and challenging myself somewhere else now. We’ll see what happens.”
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Tupou’s eyes lit up when asked about the prospect of following in the flexible contract footsteps of Wallabies captain Hooper.
“Yeah, it would be cool if I didn’t crash Super Rugby and go somewhere like Japan. Just enjoy a bowl of noodles and just play somewhere different,” he joked.
Tupou – who will start from the Reds’ bench against the Rebels in the ninth round – admitted he was not in his best form and there were “a few things I need to sort out”.
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“I’m still playing well but I think I can be a lot better.”
Overall, though, he’s very proud of the fact that he’s completed the journey from teenage internet sensation to first world-class rower.
“Yeah, looking back, I was known for my running skills and running the ball and stuff,” Tupou said.
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“As I’ve gotten to that level, some things are more important than just running the ball. That’s my prop, scrum job and I’ve been working hard on that for the past few years. If I look back things have changed I’m not that flashy… I mean every once in a while I try to pull something but it’s much more important to me now to make the fray.
New RA laws mean the Wallabies could still choose Tupou from an overseas-based club, but they will be desperate to keep him as the face of the game for the next five years or more.
At Angus Bell, Tupou has the perfect running mate for the future, although he has joked that the NSW one-on-one isn’t quite on his level yet.
“No, not even close, he’s still a young pup,” Tupou joked of the 21-year-old mobile.
“Na, he has good skills, he handles the ball well, he scrums well and he’s only going to get better. I can’t wait to see where he goes.
“We’re pretty strong, pretty tight as a group. Alan (Alaalatoa), Slips (James Slipper), just good guys and really good footballers.
“You’ve got (Greg) Holmes, Belly, Pone (Fa’amausili) – we’ve got a lot of big guys who can actually challenge a few people.
“We just have to work hard, be consistent and choose the right team for each opponent.
“We have a good team and we just have to show it.”
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