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Taharoa-raised flyer Taine Tuaupiki was tipped for big things in rugby league as an 18-year-old but his NRL debut came later than many expected as he took the road less travelled through Queensland’s lower grades.

A late bloomer in a sport where players often debut in their teens, the now 24-year-old is making up for lost time after playing a starring role in the One New Zealand Warriors’ Magic Round win over the defending champion Penrith.

In just his ninth NRL match, Tuaupiki was able to overcome a difficult start (kicking the ball dead from the opening kickoff) to level the scores with a try and kick the game-winning conversion.

With the Warriors boasting a strong crop of players recently entering the NRL, the former Burleigh Bear is often mistakenly grouped with younger rookies including Ali Leiataua, Jacob Laban and Zyon Maiu’u.

“People still get a fright, and I probably don’t correct people when I’m walking around the field and they’re like: ‘Bro, so proud to see all you 20-year-olds, all you young fullas doing your thing,’ and I’m just like, ‘Yeah bro, yep!’” he said.


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A popular teammate praised for his work ethic, the livewire admits he was often his own worst enemy during his rugby league journey, and a timely reality check helped him get back on track.

“I was probably that entitled kid that thought he was better than what he was; every team has them,” he said of his junior days.

“It was actually (former NRL player) Blake Leary who helped; he was sort of my mentor.

“He saw me play when I was, like, 18… and he’s saying to the boys: ‘Oh he’s untapped his fulla,’ talking about me.

“Then, three years pass and I’m still doing the exact same thing as I was back then, and he sort of just spoke to me about: ‘Bro, what are you doing? You’ve got potential blah blah blah, and you haven’t done anything with it.’”

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That wake-up call spurred Tuaupiki to take his career more seriously, aided by a shift from the halves to his preferred position of fullback.

“I always wanted to play fullback but being a smaller body, the time that I’m coming through, there are no small fullbacks, and if it was, it was rare. It was the freaks like Preston Campbell, Matty Bowen, and even Kevin Locke, who I really enjoyed watching,” he said.

That switch proved to be a major turning point for the Sydney-born Kiwi as he won the Burleigh Bears fullback spot on his way to winning the Petero Civoniceva Medal as Hostplus Cup Player of the Year in 2022, his rookie season.

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A train-and-trial deal offer to join the One New Zealand Warriors followed and, despite being encouraged to take offers from other clubs, it was conversations with head coach Andrew Webster that convinced him the Warriors was the best place for his development.

While having Kiwi international Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and former Dally M winner Roger Tuivasa-Sheck on the roster may have deterred some, Tuaupiki always knew where he stood and has nothing but praise for Webster’s player management.

“He’s all about clarity. There’s not one person in the squad that doesn’t know where they fit in the team, and he made that clear from the day that we signed Rog that, if Charnze went down, that I was the next man up.”

With Nicoll-Klokstad currently filling in at five-eighth, Tuaupiki will again wear the number one jersey against the Dolphins in the Indigenous Round at Te pā o Rarotonga on Sunday.

Acknowledgement of Country

The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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