Sopoaga: 'Rugby has changed and I've still got heaps to learn'
Tupou Sopoaga concedes his transition back into a rugby player has taken some working on.
After a six-year stint playing rugby league in Australia, the former Wellington schoolboy rugby star is back in the 15-man code plying his trade.
After stints with the Cronulla Sharks and the Penrith Panthers in the NRL Sopoaga returned last year to rugby union.
It started with a season in the Australia's national domestic competition before a return to New Zealand where he has linked with the Southland Stags.
While initially planning to slide back into New Zealand rugby relatively unnoticed, while playing for Woodlands in Southland club rugby, that changed dramatically when he found himself jumping straight into Super Rugby.
With the Highlanders undergoing a loose forward injury crisis earlier this year Sopoaga was called into the squad as cover.
That call up, however, shouldn't be regarded as a sign that rugby has been like riding a bike for Sopoaga.
He didn't set Southland club rugby alight this year, and at the start of the 2017 provincial season was overlooked for the matchday 23 for the Stags.
The return to rugby has had its challenges, but time seems to be what Sopoaga has needed to highlight his worth.
On Saturday night against Wellington, he probably put in his best shift in a Stags jersey to date.
"Six years away, times have changed, rugby has changed, and I've still got heaps to learn," he said.
"There's maps and a lot more calls to learn now. And I've got to push in the scrums.
"I've just got to keep learning, I feel like I'm finding my feet. I've got a good group of guys around me like Tim Boys and Elliot Dixon to learn the ropes off."
The reality is the changes to rugby which Sopoaga talks about probably has been to his benefit.
Flankers' key tasks are no longer restricted to just tackling and being a fetcher at the breakdown. The demand has grown immensely on flankers to provide teams with an attacking threat.
Despite the big 61-12 loss to Wellington, that is something Sopoaga highlighted he does offer. Sopoaga's running game and his offloading ability is his strength.
With Dixon sidelined through a bicep injury Sopoaga was forced to carry the ball more on Saturday night and he looked to thrive on that challenge.