Between long-distance commutes to training and nights spent sleeping in his car, Andrew Tuala has sacrificed a lot in pursuit of a successful career in rugby.
Now, the 30-year-old front-rower has compiled arguably his strongest season yet, featuring in the Waratahs recent Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition and sure to notch up strong Catchpole Medal votes thanks to a dominant Shute Shield campaign.
Todd Louden, Southern Districts Head Coach and the man Tuala has affectionately nicknamed ‘Dad’, says the dedication shown by his utility front-rower is inspiring.
“I think he is a player getting better with age,” he said.
“He’s a role model for all of our players and I couldn’t speak highly enough of him.
“I think him featuring in the Waratahs this season was the ultimate compliment. He wasn’t contracted with them in 2021, but such is the quality of his Shute Shield season that they included him in their plans for Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.”
“Andrew is quickly becoming the complete player.”
Tuala’s 2021 Shute Shield season has easily accumulated into one of the most complete campaigns from any front-rower in the competition.
From an attacking position, Tuala has been lethal with ball in hand, seemingly brushing off opposition defence at will and sitting joint fifth on the try scoring tally.
His capabilities at both prop and hooker also see Tuala impact games at set piece, with the Souths superstar leading a young forward with obvious Finals credentials.
However, Louden admits he has had to nag Tuala to work on his fitness over recent years.
“He [Tuala] hired a personal trainer before the season started because he knew the more he played, the more he would improve,” he said.
“What a lot of people don’t know is how fast AT is for a 130kg guy.
“We felt that if we could get him into better shape, he would be able to utilise his speed over the course of an entire game.
“There’s no denying we’re a completely different side without him in it, so improving his fitness has always been a real priority for us.”
Louden also believes that Tuala’s guidance and dedication to training is beginning to lift the standards in the younger members of the Rebels squad.
One player who has been benefiting greatly from Tuala’s influence in 2021 is Conor Young.
A Southern Districts Junior growing up, 25-year-old Young has been elevated into the First Grade squad after playing his rugby in Scotland in recent years.
Louden believes his time in Scotland fine-tuned the young props scrummaging potential, allowing Young to now compete with the likes of Tuala on a weekly basis.
“AT and Conor are at a stage now where they learn off each other,” he said.
“When they scrummage against each other there is a genuine competitiveness, it’s really healthy for their development.
“The DNA in our front-row group is really identifiable. It’s one aspect of our squad we’re incredibly happy with.”
Asked whether he would like to see a prop take home the Shute Shield’s highest individual accolade, Louden says his front-rowers would be completely deserving.
“For Andrew, it would be recognition of the complete professional that he is,” he said.
“On a side note, how impressive would it be for a prop to win the Catchpole Medal?
“It’s so easy to be blinded by the breakaways or the flashy backs, but for a front rower to be in contention speaks to the heroics of their season.”
BJ Hartmann – Manly
Hunter Ward – Manly
Kaliova Nacina – West Harbour
Otto-Louis Wendt – West Harbour
Sam Babb – Two Blues
Tevita Vea – Two Blues
Tim Clements – Sydney University
Henry Robertson – Sydney University
Mitch Short - Randwick
Ben Houston – Randwick
Andrew Tuala – Southern Districts
Conor Young – Southern Districts