Sopoaga signs with Stags

Friday March 24, 2017 Written by Published in League
Tupou Sopoaga, who played for the Cook Islands national league side, has signed to play for the Southland Stags in this year’s New Zealand provincial competition. 17032326 Tupou Sopoaga, who played for the Cook Islands national league side, has signed to play for the Southland Stags in this year’s New Zealand provincial competition. 17032326

Former NRL player Tupou Sopoaga has gone from playing pre-season rugby in Southland to being on the verge of a potential Super Rugby debut, all in the space of a couple weeks.

 

The former Cronulla Sharks and Penrith Panthers player returned to rugby union late last year in Australia's domestic competition.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the brother of All Black first-five Lima Sopoaga, signed to play for the Southland Stags in this year's New Zealand provincial competition.

On top of that, he has now also been signed by the Highlanders on a month-to-month contract to bolster the Dunedin-based Super Rugby team's loose-forward stocks.

After struggling for game time in the NRL the 24-year-old former schoolboy rugby star had looked at the possibility of heading to England to play league.

However after some encouragement from his wife he decided to return to New Zealand to give rugby another shot.

The initial plan was for Sopoaga to “fly under the radar’' somewhat playing for the Woodlands club in Southland during the early stages of his return to the rugby.

However, after a couple of games with the Highlanders development team, he now finds himself in Dunedin as part of the Super Rugby squad.

"One week I was just playing a bit of pre-season rugby for Woodlands and the next I am rubbing shoulders and training with the likes of Ben Smith and Waisake Naholo."

Given his time with the Cronulla and Penrith NRL clubs, walking into a professional setup is not as daunting as it otherwise could have been.

However, Sopoaga said he has had to undergo a crash course in trying to learn the Highlanders systems and also stamp out some “bad habits’' he had picked up on the playing front during his league days.

"It is all happened very quickly. I'm just blessed to be with the Highlanders and be able to learn off them. They are very smart in the way they play."

Just how long his time with the Highlanders will last, and whether he gets any game time, remains up in the air.

"I don't really know what will happen. I'll just stay here in Dunedin for as long as they want me and after that, I'll go to war with the Woodlands boys in Southland."

He said older brother Lima had played a vital role in helping him scrub up on the technical side of rugby at Super Rugby level.

The former Wellington College pupil was a back rower in rugby league and felt in rugby union he was best suited as an open-side flanker.

The Highlanders have a host of loose-forward injuries at the moment with Liam Squire, Shane Christie, Dan Pryor, and James Lentjes unavailable for Saturday night's game against the Brumbies.

While Sopoaga was in and out of the team during his time in the NRL he has no regrets about his move to league.

The move originally started when he was plucked out of schoolboy rugby in Wellington to play for the Bulldogs under-20 team.

"I had a good crack at league. I got to lead my country [Cook Islands] and I got to play alongside some of the best players in the world in the NRL."

            - Stuff

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