HAWTHORN ripped the covers off its Kiwi experiment that could deliver the club its next dynamite forward.
He has only played about 20 games of Australian Rules, and spent the year finishing school in Auckland, but Shem Tatupu, 17, has convinced the Hawks he can make it at AFL level.
The 196cm, 102kg key forward was one of two New Zealand international scholarship holders welcomed on to the club’s playing squad when he and athletic 193cm defender Kurt Heatherley were taken in the AFL rookie draft.
Tatupu has represented New Zealand, playing for the New Zealand Hawks against the AIS AFL Academy in early 2013.
The project has helped the reigning premier find another way into the talent pool, having used only three top-20 draft picks in the past seven national drafts.
Recruiting chief Graham Wright first spotted Tatupu as a 14-year-old, noting his unique mix of speed, height and power, that made him a weapon on the rugby league field.
“He has played rugby all the way through, so he tackles well and he is pretty aggressive,” Wright said.
“And as you can imagine with a young lad that size, there is plenty of power behind those tackles.”
But it’s the improvements Tatupu has made to his football skills – improving his kicking and marking – that has fuelled Hawthorn’s confidence its international investment will pay off.
“He kicks the ball really well, on both feet, and he has a pretty good technique,” Wright said.
“He certainly hasn’t had a problem transferring in that side of the game, and that is probably the hardest part.
“It’s more the game sense that he needs to work on.
“But he is not even 18 yet, so we will give him plenty of time and hopefully over the next two or three years he will come on.”
The signs have been good working with the Sherrin every Monday back home in New Zealand and travelling across the Tasman on school holidays to develop his craft at Waverley.
He has played the occasional game for Oakleigh in the TAC Cup, relishing the challenge.
“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,” Tatupu said.
While Tatupu has spent time working closely with Jarryd Roughead, Heatherley is a quick and agile rebounding defender who was thought to be a top-20 draft pick, had the Hawks not already taken him off the free market five years ago.
Original reporting by Jay Clark at the Herald Sun