David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

Rugby League: Tapine almost once was Warrior

Joseph Tapine, centre, rejected an offer to join the Warriors and chose to develop his skills in Australia. Photo / Getty Images
Joseph Tapine, centre, rejected an offer to join the Warriors and chose to develop his skills in Australia. Photo / Getty Images

Wellington-born Canberra Raiders forward Joseph Tapine has revealed he knocked back an offer to join the Warriors and made the move to Australia hoping to make the most of his raw footballing talent.

The Warriors offered Tapine an under-20s contract but lost out to the Newcastle Knights, who identified the rangy 17-year-old at a national elite camp before signing him on the recommendation of former Kiwis international David Lomax.

Having joined the Raiders earlier this season, the 22-year-old has been in impressive form and will be unleashed off the bench in tonight's clash against the Warriors at New Plymouth's Yarrow Stadium.

"They [Warriors] were interested in me to go to under-20s when I got offered by the Knights," said Tapine.

"I was at a New Zealand under-18s trial and that's where I got picked up and then I moved over to Aussie."

He made an immediate impression at pre-season training with his high endurance levels alongside the fittest members of the Knights NRL squad.

His swift development came as no surprise to Lomax, who recognised a rare dedication and willingness to learn in both his application to training while playing premier grade for Wainuiomata and study towards a carpentry apprenticeship.

"He was a good, young kid," said Lomax. "One thing about him, he didn't miss anything [classes or training commitments].

"He could just pick things up and had a really good work ethic.

"Peter Mulholland [former Newcastle and current Canberra recruitment manager] called after he'd been there a couple of weeks and said he was competing with Kurt Gidley in the fitness drills.

"They couldn't believe what an athlete he is. He's got everything he deserves because he's worked really hard for it."

After playing much of his junior football at centre and wing, the Knights added bulk to Tapine's considerable frame and he has matured into a 1.88m, 107kg powerhouse.

The increase in size brought with it a rise in his confidence and aggression, which was evidenced earlier this season in one memorable run straight over the top of Canterbury Bulldogs behemoth Tony Williams.

"I knew he was courageous but he's picked up a bit of aggression and the size would have helped him with that," said Lomax.

"He's hard to tackle, too. He's hard to put on the ground and stands in tackles and his feet are really wide apart too because he's got that wide frame."

Since debuting for the Green Machine in round three, Tapine has slotted in comfortably under the coaching of Ricky Stuart.

While he is happy to play the role of a front-rower, he admits a shift into the back-row is the long-term goal.

"That's my preferred spot but, at the moment, I'm happy just playing," he said. "We've got some good players out on the edge, so I've got to try and earn that right.

"I'm just trying to get used to the middle role and the combinations with the forwards and our No 9 Josh Hodgson."

The two-time Junior Kiwis representative has been earmarked for senior international honours but his immediate focus is on producing a strong performance tonight in a rare playing appearance in front of family and friends.

"I've got my dad and sister and other family travelling up. It's always a big trip for me when I go back to New Zealand. I look forward to it every time.

"The Warriors, it's just another game to me, but I just love the atmosphere and having my family watching me."

- NZ Herald

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