Panthers unearth new media sensation
Let go by the cellar-dwelling Sharks at the end of last year, Tupou Sopoaga has had to put his journalism desire aside in order to reignite his NRL career at the Penrith Panthers.
With rugby league being his priority, the agile back-rower had to quit his love song dedication hour on Sutherland Shire's community station 2SSR because the commute between Cronulla and Penrith became too much.
Unable to study journalism due to his commitment to footy and his church, the Panthers' media team stepped in and allowed Sopoaga to interview his fellow teammates for Panthers TV – to help him earn more experience in front of the camera while also plying his trade on the field for the club.
"I used to have an hour segment [on radio] which was based on love. Usually I'd get my mates who were in trouble with their missus's and dedicate songs to them on behalf of them," Sopoaga told NRL.com.
"I'd read out something that I pretended the boys had written but actually I just written it down myself.
"But now doing Panthers TV allows me to keep networking as much as I can. I wouldn't mind being on the Footy Show or something like that eventually."
Sopoaga's 'Hey Panthers TV, it's your boy Toops' introduction has become synonymous with the club's website in recent weeks, his journalistic passion comes from his confident persona.
"I just feel my personality suits it and I'm keen to branch out with it and explore it more. I'm quite good with the boys and being an islander – a lot of us are quite shy – so being a player I get greater interactions than what a journalist would," Sopoaga said.
"I like to muck around a lot with my teammates and this opportunity came up to interview the boys so I thought I'd throw myself in the deep end. I'm keen to show my personality to them.
"I'm really thankful for all the opportunities the club has given me and that they were keen for me to jump on their media team."
With his Panthers career thriving on and off the field after his impressive Auckland Nines campaign, Sopoaga said the drama-filled year in the Shire has helped him become a better player.
Despite Cronulla winning only five games and the wooden spoon last year, Sopoaga remained grateful for the opportunities afforded to him.
"I took a lot out of last year and what it meant for my career even though we didn't go well. I guess personally I grew too and it taught me a lot of things about winning and losing which has made me a better player," Sopoaga said.
"It was good that I played a lot of games last year rather than a handful as well. Now I know when I'm in certain situations in the NRL I'm not going to panic – I'm going to be familiarised to what the situation holds."
Initially gutted the Sharks didn't re-sign him; Sopoaga's devastation has turned into determination.
Heading into the new season with the intent of making Cronulla regret their decision, Sopoaga is looking to quickly prove his worth to Panthers fans.
"I thought the opportunity [to stay] was there but then I was brushed towards the end of the year which was unfortunate," Sopoaga said.
"I really wanted to stay but now the only thing I miss about the club is the boys. I had to do what I had to do for my football career though.
"When we come up against Cronulla hopefully I can line up against them and show them what they're missing out on."