One of the game’s most powerful forwards – who last week scored a scintillating solo try, swatting away Roosters defenders Boyd Cordner, Luke Keary and Josh Morris, leaving Brad Fittler almost speechless in commentary – barely bothered with the gym.
“One, two, miss a few,” Papalii joked of his Raiders teammate’s previous work ethic in the gym. “He would legit just walk in, have a chat and then you wouldn’t see him after that.”
He would legit just walk in, have a chat and then you wouldn’t see him after that.
So in his seventh year in the NRL and with his team having almost no forwards left in the cupboard, Tapine finally gave it a try. It wasn’t as if he didn’t have strength, he just didn’t do weights due to a lack of talent in the gym, desire and a combination of injuries.
“I know it sounds weird for a professional athlete, but I’ve always been terrible in the gym so I’ve avoided it,” Tapine said. “Little halfbacks can bench more than me. It’s shameful.
“When I was younger, I used to just try and run. I was much skinnier and smaller. My brother [Callan] loved weights and I hated it. I just used my natural strength.
“The performance staff approached me and said, ‘mate, we need to get you in the gym more’. I’ve actually started to love it. I still can’t bench more than the halfbacks now but I get in there and get my work done.”
The 26-year-old New Zealand international has been one of Canberra’s best in recent years but nobody could have forecast his rapid development this season.
During his 100th NRL match for the club last week, he scored a memorable finals try that helped propel Canberra to within 80 minutes of another grand final.
The Raiders’ strength and conditioning staff have worked overtime on a program to suit Tapine’s frame and physical attributes – now they can actually keep him in the gym.
“He’s very, very strong,” Papalii said. “Kyle O’Donnell will do weights every day and then he had a wrestle with Taps and Taps just flipped him. He’s just a natural.
“I still can’t get over his try on the weekend, the footwork, speed … it’s good to have. You would never see Taps do extras at training on his footwork, he just plays what’s in front of him. I think Taps is one of those that has finally found how good he can be.”
Tapine looms as one of Stuart’s wildcards in the grand final qualifier against Craig Bellamy’s Storm, who are well rested for the showdown at Suncorp Stadium.
No player wants a shot at grand final redemption more than Tapine, who is still cursing the Roosters’ opening try to Sam Verrills in last year’s controversial decider.
“It burns,” Tapine said. “The little No.9 slipped out and I didn’t get back in time and slipped over, that still haunts me now. It just pops in my head. You know how you lie in bed and get random thoughts, that try just comes to me.
“But I can feel [the weight regime] benefiting me out on the field. I’m preparing better every week and there’s a little routine I’ve got in my head.”
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Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.