Despite being touted as one of the ‘next big things’ in Australian Rugby since making his Super Rugby debut for the Melbourne Rebels last season, Sione Tuipulotu’s earliest memories have nothing to do with the sport.
“I was a big Lion King fan when we used to live in Tonga, and it was the only DVD that we had. I think for a year straight, I played it every day,” Tuipulotu remarks with a grin.
Highly influenced by his family, Tuipulotu and his mother’s Italian influence meant that that a Rugby ball wasn’t picked up until the age of 13, in which the soccer pitch and athletics track had previously reined supreme.
“I didn’t start rugby until I was about 12 or 13. Mum’s Italian, so she didn’t want me to get involved with that too early. But then with soccer I didn’t enjoy the aerobic (capacity) side of it too much, so rugby took over,” Tuipulotu
Hailing from a large family down in Frankston in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs, it wasn’t long before rugby became his focus, and Tuipulotu was dominating games for his local side, Southern Districts.
He had two main weapons to draw upon in each game. His first pair of boots, a pair of Adidas predators similar to those worn by English legend Jonny Wilkinson, and a hulking physical frame that was hard to stop.
“I suppose I was attracted to the physical side of it. I grew up with brothers and cousins, and it was just always exciting to throw your body at each other in the backyard. You wanted to be the big man of the house,” he said.
Tuipulotu’s father’s career as a rugby player was also a vital influence on him, as he pursued a rugby career and immersed himself within the game.
“My old man played rugby, and that probably attracted me to it quite a bit. Him and mum as well, always influenced me to work hard. Even when I got picked up by the Rebels, my dad’s like me, he’s very goal driven. You know, he was like, on to the next step, you got to take your opportunities,” he said.
Tuipulotu’s journey hasn’t been easy and without sacrifice. Sione had to transition to St Kevin’s College away from his beloved Frankston, in order to further enhance his game on a sporting scholarship towards the prestigious school.
It was not something he found comfortable at first, but was able to excel at the college over time which culminated to captaincy of the First XV Side towards VRSU premiership in 2015.
“My first fifteen coach helped me a lot, and l landed in a pretty good house where he was my homeroom teacher,” Tuipulotu said. “
It was tough at first, and he made the transition a lot easier. We got to know each other, and that connection made me want to the commit to the other side of schooling, the academic side. His name was Mr Bob Windell, I think he deserves a shout out.”
And clearly this has had a lasting effect on Tuipulotu whom is currently in his second year of an Arts Degree at ACU, with an aim to move into Sports Journalism.
In terms of his desire to hit the books, Tuipulotu said it was his fascination with people that had influenced his choice.
“I like people. I think I’ve got a pretty big fascination with people and conversing with them. And maybe when I’m done with rugby, I might have a few ties, I don’t know. Just liking people and sport, led me to sports journalism,” he said.
Tuipulotu’s affable and jovial nature has clearly served him well throughout his trailblazing journey to becoming the first homegrown Melbourne Rebels player.
The next twelve months look bright for the young star, as he aims to entrench himself within the Rebels side and finish his duties as an Australian U20 member with a bang.
“I think just trying to get out for the Rebels, as much as I can, and contribute to the team. And to win a world cup with the U20 Australian side, I don’t think that’s been done before, would be awesome,” he said.
Even though the skies the limit, you can count on Tuipulotu staying humble and true to his Frankston roots.
“I love it. I don’t I’ll ever truly move away from there. Even if I move overseas for footy, I think I will still have a house down there.”
Watch this space.
James Oruba is a third year Bachelor Of Journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jamesoruba95.