YOU used to have the feeling whatever Martin Taupau was delivering, he always had the ability to give you just that little bit more.
The 27-year-old started his NRL career with the Bulldogs but rose to prominence in a two-year stint with the Wests Tigers that concluded at the end of 2015. The 1.9m, 112kg giant became a cult figure at the club for his hard running and big hitting.
But despite the undoubted potential, Taupau was always just a whisker away from being the full package. He was a damn good footy player — nobody’s disputing that — but he wasn’t the fearsome wrecking ball his frame allows for as often as he should have been.
There were signs the same shortcomings that prevented him from stepping up from regular NRL player to genuine matchwinner would plague him again when he joined Manly in 2016. He knocked Jack Bird out with a high shot early on that year and later copped a three-match ban for a dangerous throw before the season had even hit the halfway mark.
The Sea Eagles may have been regretting luring the big bopper to the northern beaches on a four-year deal — later extended to keep him at the club until 2020 — if he was only going to be playing two years’ worth of games due to suspension.
But Taupau has already started repaying Manly’s faith. Never was that more evident than in his side’s 35-18 thumping of defending premiers Cronulla on Sunday afternoon.
The rampaging front-rower has started to destroy opposition teams like everyone knew he could, but has rarely seen on a consistent basis. Taupau ran 17 times for approximately 220m in the Shire on Sunday. He recorded five offloads and three tackle busts.
He was immense from the opening whistle, and people stood up and took notice.
Martin Taupau is carrying a heavy load.
“Their opening set just set the trend, Marty Taupau had a couple of touches early and boy they were powerful,” NSW legend Peter Sterling said on Triple M’s Dead Set Legends.
Ex-Queensland captain Gorden Tallis — nicknamed the Raging Bull in his playing days — knows all about unleashing the aggression needed to dominate on an NRL paddock, and he saw plenty of rage in Taupau last weekend.
“His second carry was a 20m carry going through the Cronulla forward pack. I think it was five offloads, 220-odd metres and 15 or 16 runs. He was absolutely devastating yesterday,” Tallis said on Fox Sports program Monday Night with Matty Johns.
“He gave the guys like (halfback) Daly Cherry-Evans and (five-eighth) Blake Green the room to move.”
Matty Johns called the Manly giant’s improved mobility since he traded Concord for Narrabeen “unbelievable”.
“Do you know what the big turnaround has been? Watching him at the Tigers he had that size and power but what’s improved at Manly is his mobility and footwork. It’s unbelievable,” Johns said.
And as important as his work with the ball has been, it’s his work without it — in defence and with his discipline — that’s impressed former Kangaroo Nathan Hindmarsh most.
“He’s got the crap out of his game as well. He had a bit of crap — it was a bit like (Rooster) Jared Waerea-Hargreaves when he first came onto the scene — a little bit of pushing and shoving and wanting to start stuff,” Hindmarsh said.
“But now what he’s doing is he’s just running the ball as hard as he can and his defence has improved out of sight. Instead of trying to whack everyone all the time he’s making proper tackles.”
Taupau’s starting to deliver on his potential.
And the numbers back up Taupau’s evolution from hit-man to go-to man.
In 11 games this season, the New Zealand international averages more than 181m a game. Only two other Manly forwards average more than 100m a game — Addin Fonua-Blake (102.5m per game) and Jake Trbojevic (137m per game). On average, Taupau makes the same amount of ground in a game as fullback Tom Trbojevic.
He also averages nearly five tackle breaks per game. Only one other Sea Eagle (Akuila Uate) averages four or more.
Taupau’s work doesn’t end when he hits the defensive line. He averages 4.2 offloads per game, while the next best is Curtis Sironen along with Lloyd Perrett, who average 1.8 offloads each a week.
Stats rarely tell the whole story in any sport, but these figures go a helluva long way towards explaining why opposition forwards around the country have every reason to be fearful when lining up against the bullocking Kiwi.
Manly’s start to the season gave fans such little cause for optimism, losing the opening two games. But a stunning resurgence — led by Taupau, the Trbojevic brothers and Daly Cherry-Evans — sees it locked in the top four with nine wins from 14 games.
The question that remains to be answered is whether Manly — and Taupau — can sustain the form that’s got them this far into September, when it matters most.