‘Show me the money’: Australia in million-dollar fight to keep Tongan Thor



Australia’s highest-paid prop is about to lock in a massive pay rise as Rugby Australia prepares to table a $1 million a year offer to keep Taniela Tupou in the country until the 2027 World Cup.

As European clubs look to pounce on the Wallabies’ wrecking ball in the final years of his current deal, Tupou jokingly responded with “show me the money” when asked on Wednesday whether he would consider another multi-year contract when his deal finishes at the end of next year.

“Depends. Show me the money. I’m joking. I’m not joking, though. Come on [Dave] Rennie,” Tupou said at the launch of the Vintage Reds XV v Tongan Invitational XV charity match at Suncorp Stadium next Saturday.

But the reality of Tupou’s value and rugby’s international economy means Australian administrators will have to do that and more to hold on to the 25-year-old.

Tupou plays in the specialist tight-head position, the highest paid spot on teams in Europe’s rich professional leagues. A tight-head prop of his calibre would command more than $1 million a year in France and England, and right now there is no other front-rower with his X-factor, potentially pushing that figure higher.

While official talks are in their infancy, the Herald has learnt that Australia coach Rennie and the RA contracting team are drawing up a multi-year flexible offer for the Reds and Wallabies fan favourite that would keep him here as the face of a likely home World Cup in 2027.

The deal will be styled after those inked with recent Wallabies stars Michael Hooper, David Pocock and Israel Folau, giving Tupou the ability to spend a season in Japan, earning more money and having a break from the daily demands that exist here for a player of his profile.

Hooper is Australia’s highest paid player now, on a five-year deal worth $1.2 million a season that expires at the same time as Tupou’s after next year’s World Cup. Tupou’s contract is unlikely to eclipse that but will go close.

Ironically, it is his technical scrum work that is seen as the weakest weapon in his arsenal, but at such a young age that will be no deterrent to foreign raiders in the context of Tupou’s other assets.

The Tongan-born prop, nicknamed the “Tongan Thor” and beloved by fans for his heart-on-sleeve style and larrikin humour, has scored five tries in 38 Tests. Still a baby in front-row years, he would arguably start in a world XV, such is his physical presence, skill, speed and footwork in broken play. He also plays big minutes for the Wallabies, regularly hitting the 60-minute mark, defying critics to cast himself as one of the hardest-working new generation players.

Tupou is already on a lucrative long-term deal, signed in 2019, that has scaled up over the four years to put him on an estimated $1 million next year. It was good value for RA and the Queensland Reds at the time, and for Tupou it meant stability and consistency that allowed him to concentrate on his rugby.

RA boss Andy Marinos was up front about the 135-kilogram prop’s value to the Wallabies.

“He’s very important to the continued success of the team and I know he’s an integral part of Dave’s plans beyond 2023. At the right time we’ll be engaging with him and working with the Reds around that,” Marinos said.

“When you look at these marquee players of ours, we have to think creatively and a guy like Taniela is not too dissimilar to Hoops [Hooper]. He gets through a huge amount of game time, especially for a tight-head, and if you want to preserve and manage him you have to think creatively about how you can do that while still retaining his services going forward.”

Tupou said he had no regrets about staying in Australia in recent years when there was more money on offer in France.

Dave Rennie has big plans for Taniela Tupou. CREDIT:AP

“I’ve loved it. I’m so grateful for the Reds trusting me and signing me for the long term,” he said. “I think I’ve given it my all, every year. I love this club and I can’t picture being anywhere else. I’ve got this year and next year, I’ll do everything I can to help this team win, but we’ll see how we do after that.”

Tupou was with Wallabies great Toutai Kefu at Ballymore to promote the Queensland Rugby Union’s partnership with UNICEF’s Tongan Recovery Appeal. Kefu has put together an all-star line-up for the Tongan invitational side, including Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri, George Smith, Radike Samo, Digby Ioane, Shane Drahm, Andrew Walker, Hosea Gear and Dan Leo.

Also launched on Wednesday was the Tries for Tonga initiative from Nine (the owners of this masthead), Stan, Sky NZ, Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby. The partners will donate $500 to the Red Cross Pacific Tsunami Appeal for every try scored across Super Rugby Pacific’s first 10 rounds, a move that could raise more than $200,000 based on last year’s numbers.

By Georgina Robinson

February 9, 2022


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