Martin Taupau admits he’s treading a fine line between grub and enforcer but says he won’t be changing his hard-nosed approach in the face of his much-criticised shot on Jack Bird.
The Manly second-rower was lucky to be rubbed out for just one week for his late shot around the head of Cronulla centre Bird in round three, prompting criticism that the judiciary had gone soft.
But for every time he is denounced for his aggression, Taupau earns just as much high praise for the same trait.
Take last Friday’s duel with South Sydney superstar Sam Burgess when Taupau came up with a bone-rattler on the Englishman, dislodging the ball.
After the match, Burgess hailed Taupau as a force to be reckoned with and admitted the Manly recruit had managed to get the better of him.
For the better part of his career, Taupau has been labelled an enforcer, a label he finds peculiar because he flat out doesn’t understand where it comes from and sees himself as just doing his part to get his team on the front foot.
But he’s happy to wear it and says he’s constantly trying to find that balance between asserting his dominance and suffering a brain snap.
“That incident with Jack Bird, people come out and say ‘he’s a grub’; ‘he’s an enforcer’; ‘he’s too much’,” Taupau said.
“But then with Sam Burgess, I tried to be that enforcer and spark something and people praise it.
“It is a fine line and you’ve got to be careful. I’m just very competitive and go out and do my job and I’m just loving it.”
Asked if Sea Eagles coach Trent Barrett had asked him to tone it down, Taupau quipped: “Oh please – no way.”
Taupau says he lives for the one-on-one duels with the best big men of the competition, such as his toe-to-toe with Burgess.
This week, he comes up against Warriors front-rower and New Zealand teammate Ben Matulino and has flagged fireworks for Saturday’s clash at Mt Smart Stadium.
The pair are in competition for a starting spot for Stephen Kearney’s New Zealand side for next month’s Test against Australia and he knows a points victory over the Warriors prop will go a long way to earning him a starting 13 berth.
“He’s a very powerful man and he knows how to play the game very well,” Taupau said of Matulino.
“For me, it’s about seeing how I can manage him and bring what I can produce on the field as well.
“You never know – there might be a bit of fireworks or whatever. It’ll be interesting.”