POWER: Western Suburbs prop Tama Koopu making yards against Cessnock at Harker Oval on Sunday. The Rosellas recruit has been picked for the Newcastle Rebels representative squad. Picture: Jonathan CarrollTama Koopu was destined to play rugby league.
Despite growing up in rugby union-madNew Zealand, the now 23-year-old Western Suburbs prop only ever really had eyes for one code.
And it was born out of family tiesmore than anything else with older brother Wairangi, 15 years his senior, paving the way with 171 NRL games and Kiwi representation.
“My brother played professionally for 10 years and when he first started his career I was only pretty young, around five or six,” Koopu said.
“All I wanted to really do was try and follow in his footsteps. I wanted to play league just like him.That has stuck with me forever and I haven’t looked back since. League has always been a passion of mine.”
The 184-centimetre, 106-kilogram front-rowerwas born in Opotiki, nestled on the North Island’sBay of Plenty, before being brought up in Huntly, located towards the west coast in between Auckland and Hamilton.
It was in Huntly, a town of around 8000 people that once boasted four rugby league clubs, where Koopu developed his love for the sport.
“It’s a big rugby league town,” he said.
“I played for a club calledTaniwharau, which has produced some pretty good talent. My brother played for the Warriors and Storm while Lance Hohaia played for the Warriorsand St Helens.”
Koopu got his break and relocated to when signed bythe Newcastle Knights under-20 squad. Still wearing red and blue he then progressed to reserve grade and won a NSW Cup grand final in 2015 under now Wests coach Matt Lantry.
“We came from the bottom of the eight and afterscraping into the finals series wewon sixon the trot. It was unbelievable,” he said.
“It was a good stepping stone for me because I was able to push my way into the first grade training squad. So I got an NRL pre-season, which was a dream come true for me.”
Last yearKoopu moved up to Brisbane and played 11 games with Queensland Cup side the Norths Devils.
He came back downto Newcastle in 2018,reconnecting with Lantry at the Rosellas and settling into family life at Tighes Hill with six-year-old daughter TJ.
“I really enjoy the environment here and it’s a place where I want to bring my daughter up,” Koopusaid.
His early season form in the opening three rounds, making metres with relative ease,earned selection this week in the Newcastle Rebels representative team.
“I’m proud to play with the Rebels and can’t wait to do it again,” he said.
Koopu first lined up with the Rebels in 2014 afterjust three matches for Lakes. Newcastle were beaten 21-20by Canberra in the semi.
This time around the Rebels meet the Sydney-based Ron Massey Cup side at Maitland Sportsground on June 1.
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