With UW product Taniela Tupou, Seattle Seawolves ready for 5th Major League Rugby season

Feb 2, 2022, 12:56 PM | Updated: Jul 12, 2022, 3:20 pm

Seawolves Taniela Tupou...

Taniela Tupou of the Seattle Seawolves carries the ball. (Photo provided by Seattle Seawolves)

(Photo provided by Seattle Seawolves)

The Seattle Seawolves kick off their fifth Major League Rubgy season this Sunday, Feb. 6 at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, and if you haven’t had a chance to attend a match yet, you’re missing out.

If you happen to be new to rugby, the learning curve can be intimidating. But if you’re a football fan, you’ll quickly find that the scoring concepts are very similar. Another thing that should look familiar is the hard-hitting format, and rugby games offer that kind of physicality with almost no stoppages other than a brief halftime.

“We’re trying to develop a brand of rugby that entices people to come watch,” Seawolves head coach Allen Clarke said. “You look at other sports in America and they’re incredibly popular but they don’t have 40 minutes of ball-in-play time. They’re not complete in 80 minutes. You’ve got tackles, you’ve got bone-on-bone physicality, you’ve got evasion, you’ve got speed, you’ve got kicking. So that combination of sporting experience I think is unique… I know it’s unique to all other sports in America.”

Another thing that is unique about Major League Rugby is the global talent. Some of the countries represented on the Seawolves roster right now include South Africa, Scotland, England, Samoa, Canada and New Zealand. But identifying potential players here locally is a current priority, as well.

“We’ve gone into an extensive period of recruitment, bringing in quality players from overseas to complement the ones we already have,” Clarke said. “We’re really trying to provide an opportunity for local talent. So for me it’s making sure our pathways are correct and we’re spending a lot of time on that behind the scenes with our general manager and our key partners so that we’re really driving rugby in the Pacific Northwest.”

One of the local names to make his way onto the team is someone very familiar to the Seattle sports scene: Taniela Tupou. A native of Marysville, Tupou was a standout football player at Archbishop Murphy High School before playing defensive line for the UW Huskies. During his senior season at Washington, he had 37 tackles, a pass deflection, a blocked field goal and a forced fumble.

“After my career (at UW), I again got the home town gig,” Tupou said. “I was fortunate enough to play for the Seahawks a little bit and then did my thing, bounced around the league. Then, I kind of sat for about half a year, did AAF (Alliance of American Football) down in San Diego, bounced around again, did the whole league (NFL) thing again. You know, just a free agent kind of bouncing between practice squad and active. Then I was fortunate enough to get the call from the hometown again from the XFL Dragons.”

That’s when the idea of rugby came into play.

“I was waiting for another call and then I was fortunate enough to get a call from Glendale, Colo.,” Tupou said. “They have the American Raptors crossover team. They called me and were like ‘Hey, do you want to try rugby?’ and I wasn’t playing football at the time so I was like ‘Dude, if you’re going to pay me to play a sport, why not just try it and see how I like it?’”

It was Tupou’s first time ever playing rugby and he ended up being named a captain for the Raptors. He decided not to return to the Raptors because it was too hard to be away from his wife and kids, so instead he will continue his rugby journey back in his hometown with the Seawolves.

What is it that drew a lifelong football player into the sport of rugby?

“Honestly, just the freedom. The freedom to do everything,” Tupou said. “Football is so specialized. I love football, that’s always going to be my first love, but as a defensive lineman I barely ever touched the ball. Even when I was playing for the Seahawks, I played fullback but I never touched the ball, I just had to block. So I think that was one of the biggest attractions was that I get to touch the ball, and you can tackle, you can pretty much do everything.”

In fact, you have to do everything in rugby. The athletes play both offense and defense, creating an undeniable team chemistry that really stood out to Tupou.

“It really is like the ultimate team sport,” said Tupou. “I think that’s where I really fell in love with the whole thing. Football is a team sport, but rugby, it really takes the whole squad to score a try. And yeah, you do have superstars, but it’s really teamwork all across the board.”

Tupou and his Seawolves teammates will look to get their first win of the season on at 7 p.m. Sunday against the Toronto Arrows. For more information, including links to buy tickets, go to Seawolves.Rugby.

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