New heights for 'giraffe' Tupou

They reckon rugby league is a jungle. Come Friday night it'll look suspiciously like the Serengeti.

Up the middle one herd of bull elephants clad in red, white and blue and another in cardinal and myrtle will attempt to migrate in opposite directions.

Out wide Souths boast a pair of gazelles in Walker and Johnston, a cleaner pair of hooves you couldn't hope to see. Matched only by the spots on the cheetahs hunting them across the 10-metre divide, in Jennings and Kenny-Dowall.

And out on the Tricolours' left edge, Daniel Tupou lines up on Lote Tuqiri.
 
A man Andrew Voss dubbed has dubbed the baby giraffe. Up against a bloke that even without his mane of dreadlocks, still does a mighty impression of the king of the jungle. 

The oldest lion in the game may be getting a bit long in the tooth, but he's still more than capable of mauling an upstart opponent. Just ask Manly's Jorge Taufua.

Meanwhile at 23 years young, Tupou already boasts an impressive swag of mementos from his 47 appearances in the top flight. A premiership ring. Three NSW jumpers. Thirty-one four-pointers in a bit over two seasons. 

Six foot four in the old scale and with one of the most awkward running styles in the game, Tupou had Voss delivering one of the lines of the year when he broke clear against the Warriors last month.

"Hello, the zoo keeper's needed, the giraffe is away!" Voss bellowed into the mic as Tupou galloped downfield.

But the thought of coming against the dual international he idolised as a kid has those baby giraffe knees knocking.

"When he was playing for Queensland I used to watch him playing on the wing with Wendell Sailor on the other, and I used to love it," Tupou tells NRL.com.

"It was scary. I remember being a young kid wondering how a winger could be that big, you know? 

"I played against him when he was at the Tigers and that was the first time I marked up on him. That was pretty nerve-wracking because I looked up to him and to see him still at his age now, I guess I still look to him as an inspiration and to still be playing so well and for so long is awesome."

Off the back of his first Origin series Tupou is better equipped to deal with those nerves. Doubly so after the Roosters scraped through 'the weirdest game of my life', sending the Cowboys packing and booking a mouth-watering grand final qualifier against the Rabbitohs.

The five weeks spent in rehab post-Origin with an injury he'd never even heard of have him hungry for more of the big stage. 

Floored by the same torn latissimus dorsi muscle as senior inside man Jennings, Tupou went from the biggest occasion in rugby league to one of the loneliest places in the game within days of a historic interstate contest wrapping up.

"It was really frustrating for me because it was my first serious injury and I hated being away from the team," Tupou says.

"When Jenko did it, that's the first time I'd heard of it and then I did and I couldn't believe it.

"We were training together in rehab, doing the same stuff, and he came back two weeks earlier so that kind of pushed me to get back out there with him.

"We were looking after each other, just helping each other through rehab. Jenko just kept saying 'you've got to stay positive, it's only a minor setback, don't let it get inside your head.' We were just training hard trying to get back out on the field."

Just 80 minutes away from a second grand final appearance in as many years, but with a giant red and green obstacle in the way, Tupou insists his sole focus at the moment is Friday night's showdown. As it should be. 

But since Darius Boyd (personal issues) and Billy Slater (injured) won't be assuming their customary positions in the Australian backline, Tupou will join Johnston, Penrith's Josh Mansour and Melbourne's Will Chambers as contenders for the Kangaroos left wing spot come Four Nations time.

Should he get the nod it'll cap one hell of a journey since early May, when Tupou declared he wasn't ready for Origin. Another four months surveying the veldt from up high and it's a different story. 

"I said it because I genuinely felt I wasn't ready, but I just tried to make the most of it and take that opportunity with two hands," Tupou says.

"Now I'm ready. It's given me confidence and it's built my game. It definitely helps with these big games now. I'm not as nervous and feel like I can back myself more in these big games now.

"[An Australian call-up] is not on my list at the moment. I just take it as it comes. That's kind of how I approached the Origin, I didn't really think about it, and I need to focus on this game coming up."

"But if that opportunity does come I'll be trying to take it again with both hands."