Queensland Reds inside-centre Ben Tapuai last year seriously contemplated a future as a Melbourne Rebel.
The Rebels chased him hard and he was tempted to return to the city where he grew up, but in the end he decided to remain at the Reds and take advantage of the start he had been given by coach Ewen McKenzie, when he snared a regular position in 2011 and was part of the championship-winning team.
Tapuai had moved to the Gold Coast after taking up a scholarship to The Southport School.
So the 24-year-old remains part of the cluster of Australian players who grew up in Victoria but are part of rival teams, with the talented back among the Reds team that will play against the Rebels at AAMI Park on Friday night.
Tapuai is contracted to the Reds until the end of next year, and while he has not thought about his future beyond that date, he said the possibility of one day playing for the Rebels held some appeal.
”I just pretty much started, so if I moved again [last year] it just would have felt like I had started again,” said Tapuai, who played rugby at Box Hill.
”I was contemplating going, but at the end of the day I stuck at it and stuck with the Reds … but in saying that it would be awesome to go back to Melbourne and to finish off there, but I haven’t even thought of that.”
Tapuai’s star has risen to the extent that he has now played seven Tests for the Wallabies and is regarded as an integral part of the Reds back line, despite the bigger name players around him, such as Quade Cooper, the injured Will Genia and Digby Ioane. He said a change in attitude before the 2011 season sparked the upward momentum of his career.
”I think it’s commitment and diet. I was pretty bad in the diet situation. I just kind of ate anything and everything and then that pre-season – end of 2010, start of 2011 – that’s when I started to try and take things serious and things worked for me and it paid off.”
But Tapuai’s immediate thoughts are on Friday night’s clash with a Rebels team that he believed would provide more challenges than at any time during the Reds’ previous games this season.
”If they were playing in Melbourne last week against the Tahs, I reckon they would have got away with it … they were up 16-6 at half-time and they let it go in the last 20,” he said.
”But if you look at them from two years ago when they were beaten by the Waratahs by at least 30 points … they’ve improved immensely.”
Tapuai said the Rebels would lose little with James O’Connor replacing Kurtley Beale at five-eighth, with Beale sidelined with a broken hand.
Reds five-eighth Quade Cooper agreed with that assessment, noting that O’Connor had bulked up during his lay-off with injury. ”He’s grown up a lot and he’s a lot bigger. He’s not like a little 18-year-old any more.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.