IT’S HARD to imagine what it’s like for a 17 year old coming to a new country to play a game so foreign to him, particularly when it’s a game Australians have all grown up watching and playing since they were kids.
But that’s the challenge that faces Shem Tatupu, one of the Club’s New Zealand Scholarship holders set to join the Hawks as an International rookie at the end of this season.
Tatupu joined Hawthorn as an International scholarship holder when he was a solidly built 15 year old and now, in 2013, has grown into a 196cm and 104kg giant with great physical strength and agility for his size.
Although he still lives in Auckland, Tatupu participated in sections of the Club’s 2013 pre-season training camp on the Sunshine Coast in December last year and since then, has regularly been in Melbourne working closely with the Club’s Recruiting and Special Projects Manager, Mark McKenzie.
Recently, he visited Melbourne for two weeks in July to undertake further training and skills development and to play with TAC Cup side, Oakleigh Chargers – where he impressed, gathering nine disposals, taking seven marks and kicking a goal while playing as a key forward.
He also played a game with Box Hill’s Development team.
“I played centre half forward and full forward with Oakleigh, I tried to get around the ground a bit and get that aerobic capacity up,” he toldhawthornfc.com.au.
“There are some big bodies around in the TAC Cup – getting into the nitty gritty and the physical side of footy; I love that because I can compete well.”
While at the Club, Tatupu works closely with McKenzie on developing skills, but also takes the time to closely watch the people he hopes to emulate in the near future, Hawthorn’s current crop of AFL players.
He says just watching the players run through their weekly training regime helps him learn more about the game.
“I still have a lot to learn but looking at the guys every day, it shows me what I aspire to be and really gives me a lot of motivation,” Tatupu said.
“Watching the small things they do, like the angle of the ball, dropping it lower rather than up high and things like that are all learning curves.”
Notably, he says the advice given to him by Jarryd Roughead, Cyril Rioli and Shaun Burgoyne has been of particular benefit as he continues his development before joining the Hawks at the end of this year.
“I do a bit of work with ‘Roughie’, he taught me a few little things like how to use my body, which was a good learning curve for me,” he said.
“He’s been a great help to me with my kicking and being able to get better accuracy with my kicks.
“He’s also been reiterating heaps of things that I haven’t maybe been picking up on.
“Cyril Rioli has also been a great help with my kicking skills and Shaun Burgoyne as well. He has been great in showing me a few things with my skills – at training one day he was watching me have a few kicks and he helped me with my follow through and things like that, which is a great experience and learning opportunity that I’ll take on board.”
He knows the challenge to become an AFL player in his own right is a tough one, but he’s more than up for it.
If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be here.
“I’m kind of a stranger to the sport but I see it as another challenge I’m undertaking,” he said.
“I want to get to that ideal physique and skill set the boys show on the ground.”
Tatupu will join fellow Kiwi Kurt Heatherley on Hawthorn’s International Rookie list at the end of 2013, but the 17 year old says he sees Heatherley more as a role model rather than a peer who’s currently in the same position.
“Kurt has been a great help to me, just watching everything he does teaches me a lot,” he said.
“He has kind of made the path for me and I’m following him, watching his every move.
“We hang out a bit when I’m down here, which is great because he’s obviously been through similar things to me. So having someone in that position is good.”
Now, Tatupu is back in New Zealand continuing his skills development with Justin Davies, one of the New Zealand AFL coaches.
He says it’s tough being away from Melbourne because now he’s not surrounded by AFL, but rather the sport that comes naturally to him, rugby.
Tatupu still plays rugby when in New Zealand and says it’s tough to be away from Melbourne and away from the AFL specifics that have taught him so much.
“Getting back into the mode of AFL when I’m in Melbourne really helps because I see things from the players that I pick up on that help me, like slightly tilting the ball might help me improve my kicking,” he said.
“I’m fortunate enough to get heaps of time in Melbourne to improve my game and train more for AFL, so the feedback has been to just keep focusing on my technique when I’m back home.
“When I’m over here, I start to get into the routine but when I get back to New Zealand it’s easy to forget some things because I’m just not around it and constantly learning by watching the little things.”