James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Talent scouts salivate over Sacred Heart's 'Tongan Thor'

A 135kg schoolboy nicknamed "the Tongan Thor" whose exceptional rugby skills have made him a YouTube sensation has been inundated with interest from rugby and league clubs both here, Australia and in France, his brother says.

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Taniela "Daniel" Tupou's older brother Criff yesterday told the Weekend Herald from Tasmania that the 18-year-old Sacred Heart College 1st XV star had attracted interest "but no offers yet" from more than 15 rugby and league clubs. They included the Blues, the Chiefs, the Waratahs, the Warriors, the Newcastle Knights and at least six rugby clubs in France.

"At the moment there are heaps ... but we are not looking at offers until he finishes school at the end of the year."

Mr Tupou said his younger brother, one of 11 children, was battling with the attention his video had garnered, which showed him storming through the opposition and taking them by surprise with his size, power and pace.

He had been told not to answer his phone and to ignore all calls and messages on Facebook.

"I spoke with him last night. He's good at the moment but I told him to leave everything to me because he needs to finish school. He's a bit worried because too many things are happening to him, I just told him ignore it and focus on school."

He said despite living in New Zealand since 2010, the Nuku'alofa-raised Taniela grew up idolising the Wallabies, probably because the team included Tongan stars like flanker George Smith and the Kefu brothers.

Asked if he would prefer to play for the All Blacks or wear the green and gold, Criff Tupou was unsure.

"What I know about him is growing up he was always a big fan of the Wallabies.

"There were a couple of Tongans playing for the Wallabies and I'm pretty sure they inspired him but who knows, though, he may change his mind."

Taniela's Sydney-based agent Daniel O'Loughlin, who visits New Zealand frequently to scout for rugby and league talent, said he couldn't recall the level of hype and excitement surrounding a young rugby player.

"I don't know how much hype Shaun Johnson's [touch rugby] video got a few years ago but I've not seen anything like this, ever."

Blues high performance manager Tony Hanks said Taniela was part of the Blues U-18 development squad last year and was "definitely" a player the franchise was watching closely.

"We are fortunate in this area to have a lot of good players who get a lot of interest from all over the place, whether that's different franchises, the NRL or even AFL," he said.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie gave away little but said; "The Chiefs are aware of him."

Warriors general manager of football operations Dean Bell said one of the club's scouts spotted Taniela about a year ago but the club had yet to take things any further.

He said Taniela was agile and fast for his size but people may be getting carried away.

- NZ Herald

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