Olympic deal a games changer for rugby prodigy

Rugby is in Emmanuel Tuipulotu’s blood, now he just has to work out whether to play the 15-man game, seven-aside – or both. Glenn Cullen reports.

Image: On the pathway to sporting success: Hills Sports High School captain Emmanuel Tuipulotu.

Hills Sports High School captain Emmanuel Tuipulotu would love to play for the Wallabies one day – and he doesn’t have to look far for inspiration or motivation.

The rangy flanker’s father Sateki Tuipulotu featured in three World Cups for Tonga between 1995 and 2003, and logged an impressive professional career in England as a hard-running fullback who scored more than 1300 points across seven years.

“He built me up to play rugby and I have enjoyed it ever since,” the Year 12 student said.

While his father provides him the example, his school gives him the implements to be the best he can be.

And new to that toolbox is a deal with the Australian Olympic Committee that recognises Hills Sports and the other six sports high schools in the state as Olympic pathway schools.

Recognising the expertise that the schools already bring to the table, the partnership will make the transition from talented teen athlete to potential Olympian that much smoother.

He may be enamoured with the 15-man game and harbouring Wallabies ambitions but it’s hardly lost on Emmanuel that there are now significant opportunities to move into the seven-aside version which has been played at Olympic level since 2016.

“With this Olympic athlete pathway, I really hope I will (be selected for Australia),” he said.

“It will increase the opportunities for people like me to become Olympians, with higher involvement in sports. It gives us more motivation.”

Emmanuel admits it’s sometimes tough balancing the demands of sport and study in his final year at school, but former Australian cyclist and Westfields Sports High student Kate Bates encouraged him and his cohorts to embrace the challenge.

“I was in a position where I didn’t have to choose between the two (education and sport),” Bates, a two-time Olympian and points race world champion said.

“It gave me a lot of life skills outside sport. And probably the best example I can find is that I went overseas as an athlete when I was 17 for over a decade but while I did that I completed my university education by distance – and a Master’s degree.

“I only had the skills to do that because of what Westfield Sports High did for me – allowing me to balance education and sport while travelling. It’s a lifelong skill.”

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