Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Stealthy Tupou going unnoticed no longer

Tupou played his 49th NRL match last night.  Photo / Getty Images
Tupou played his 49th NRL match last night. Photo / Getty Images

You may not have noticed but Bill Tupou feels he is in the midst of his best season so far at the Warriors.

The winger tends to slip under the radar - it was notable during the coverage of the grand final run last year that he was basically ignored by the Sydney media, who preferred to focus on all the star names around him - but Tupou performs an increasingly important function at Mt Smart.

The club is not exactly blessed with flank players and, along with Manu Vatuvei (who has become more affected by injuries in recent seasons, due to his confrontational style) is one of the senior players among the back five.

"This season personally has gone very well," Tupou told the Herald on Sunday. "My main goal was to play consistently and get picked for every game and I have done that so far - it's been good compared with other seasons."

Apart from the gift of experience, Tupou, who played his 49th NRL match last night after making his debut in April 2010, feels dividends have come from hard work.

"I've been doing all the little things off the ball that count on the field," says Tupou, "like covering the kicks, returning back early to get ready for a run and helping the forwards as much as possible. I've also been doing extras when everyone else has gone, working hard on the training field and in the gym and preparing for games much better."

Luck has also played a part in 2012. Twice he has picked up injuries but on both occasions, they came just before a bye, meaning he had a fortnight to recover.

Tupou has tallied six tries this season and has been a busier presence on both attack and defence. His work under high balls at both ends of the field has improved and his defensive reads, while still occasionally off, have been significantly better. Probably the high-point of the season so far came in the round eight match in Melbourne, when he scored two tries that left commentators grasping for superlatives.

"I was really nervous before that game but I felt good once the game started," says Tupou. "It was a great feeling for me personally but of course we wanted to win at that club so it was mixed."

He doesn't always reach those heights - though supporters would also argue that Warriors wingers get less opportunities in space than their counterparts at most other clubs - but he is a solid presence on the right flank. There are few other options. Omar Slaimankhel has yet to convince at NRL level, while Glen Fisiiahi has shown flashes of brilliance without fully making the most of his opportunities out wide.

Tupou has been part of a backline that has been the subject of much criticism this year for their leaky defence out wide. The 22-year-old acknowledges the frailties but feels that things are improving.

"Lately our defence has been good, especially on our right side," says Tupou, "though we slipped back a bit against Newcastle. On defence I am working on just staying square and communicating with my centre. It's all about trusting my inside and sticking on my wing."

His performances this season have also allowed him to shed a nickname that had followed him around Mt Smart for the previous few seasons.

"The boys used to call me 'mini-beast'," laughs Tupou, "but people don't say that any more. Anyway I think Konrad [Hurrell] is stealing all the names - they call him 'Koncrete', 'Konnie', 'Hurricane', as well as a few others."

- Herald on Sunday

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