Young guns: Semisi Tupou

By Pete Fairbairn, 13.03.18

He’s just been named in the Junior Wallabies’ squad for the second straight season, and while he’s currently on the edge of the Melbourne Rebels’ star-studded matchday squad you can expect to see plenty more of him on the Super Rugby stage, both this year and moving forward.

Fleet-footed Semisi Tupou is not yet 20 years old, but in his second season at the Rebels he has already broken through and played two Super Rugby games after making his debut against the Jaguares last season and coming off the bench against the Reds in Round Two this year.

It’s the culmination of a lifelong dream. As the youngest of four, Semisi watched his eldest brother Will earn professional status in both the NRL and Super Rugby, before making his Test debut for Japan last year, and decided he wanted to follow suit.

“Growing up, I always watched Will play Rugby and that’s how I fell in love with the game myself,” Semisi explains to RUPA. “It was awesome to watch him going through the ranks, and from a young age that was what made me decide that I wanted to do the same thing.

“He definitely made the pathway a little bit easier for me to follow, though in saying that there was always a little bit more pressure to live up to his achievements! Going through different representative teams as I was growing up, lots of coaches would know me as Will’s little brother and that broke the ice straight away but probably raised the expectations too.”

Tupou, who went to school at Brisbane’s famed Rugby nursery Nudgee College, moved down to Melbourne after signing when he was just eighteen.

“Will signed his first NRL deal and left home when he was 19, so he was able to pass on some good advice for what worked for him, and how he managed it. To be completely honest, he’s been more help off the field than on it. He didn’t sugar-coat anything; he told me that it was going to be tough moving away from home and stepping up a level, and that I needed to be prepared for that.

“The best piece of advice that he’s given me was that the only thing that will get you through a professional pre-season, and allow you to make a good impression, is to avoid taking shortcuts.

"He stressed to make the most of the opportunity and to get everything done to the best of my ability, and that is something I have definitely tried to take on board over the first couple of years.”

Semisi had the chance to follow Will’s footsteps even more closely by starting his career in the thirteen-man code but opted to stick with his favoured sport.

“When I was finishing high school, I had a few NRL offers to consider but Will advised me to stick with what I love and for me that’s Rugby. I may want to explore looking at that later in my career, but for now I am focused entirely on Rugby as it has been my passion from a young age and I definitely want to stick to that until I achieve all of my goals.”

Because of their eight-year gap in age the brothers Tupou have yet to play either alongside each other or against each other, but that nearly changed when Semisi was named in the Rebels’ touring party to face the Sunwolves in Round Three.

Will, who played for the Western Force for two years before moving to Japan and starring in the Top League, has been at the Sunwolves for the past two campaigns and was capped at International level by Brave Blossoms coach Jamie Joseph against Ireland last year. Unfortunately, however, on this occasion Semisi had to make do with catching up with his brother for the first time in a while rather than playing against him as Rebels’ Coach David Wessels opted for just two backs on the bench.

“Getting named in the squad to travel to Tokyo was very exciting, but of course I was a little bit gutted to miss out on selection in the 23,” Semisi said.

“The next best thing to happen was for me to get to see the Rebels win, and my brother score a try at the same time. Of course, I was stoked for him, but I was sitting next to (Rebels’ CEO) Baden Stephenson in the stands so I didn’t think it was appropriate to celebrate!”

For now, Semisi will be focusing on the Junior Wallabies camp and continuing to push for a spot in that Rebels 23, and there’s one game in particular that he will be looking towards.

“I came pretty close to playing against my brother in that game, so hopefully when the Sunwolves come to play in Melbourne later this year we might get that opportunity.”

The competition for places isn’t new for Semisi; while he’s competing with the likes of Dane Haylett-Petty, Sefanaia Naivalu, Marika Koroibete and Jack Maddocks at the Rebels this year, he was also up against the likes of Maddocks, Izaia Perese, Simon Kennewell and Henry Hutchison for a spot in the Junior Wallabies last year at the World Rugby U20s Championship in Georgia. Patience, and backing himself, are critical ingredients moving forward.

“There was a lot of competition (in the Junior Wallabies) last year, and now this year at the Rebels we have a world class squad,” he said.

“We have a lot of talented players and it is great to train with them and to learn off them. For me to give myself the best crack, I just want to give everything my all.

"Dave Wessels has made it really clear that he will pick players off form rather than profile, and that has given me a lot of confidence, so I am determined to make a good impression on him and see where it takes me.”

Fast five with Semisi Tupou:

Cheapest teammate: Jack Maddocks

Worst dress sense: Sione Tuipulotu

Player to watch in 2018: Amanaki Mafi

Sporting hero as a child: Daniel Carter

Toughest opponent so far: George Moala (Blues & All Blacks) at the Brisbane Global Tens

Semisi Tupou Profile:

- 19 years old, wing/fullback

- Super Rugby: 2 games, Melbourne Rebels

- National Rugby Championship (NRC): 5 games (3 tries) Melbourne Rising

- Junior Wallabies: 5 games (1 try)

Will Tupou Profile:

- 27 years old, wing/centre

- NRL: 20 games (8 tries) North Queensland Cowboys, Tongan International

- Super Rugby: 13 games (1 try) Western Force, 10 games (3 tries) Sunwolves, Japanese International

Pete Fairbairn
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