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Elijah-Shane Tapau. Photo: Townsville Blackhawks

Elijah-Shane Tapau is where he is today because of his support base.

The Townsville Blackhawks backrower will take to the field in this Sunday’s Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup grand final, ready to battle it out with a monster Redcliffe Dolphins pack for the 2023 premiership.

Tapau - who was also this week voted the 2023 best Auswide Bank ‘player to bank on’ – is determined not to get too far ahead of himself before the decider at Totally Workwear Stadium.

But when talking about how far he has come, Tapau said he owed a lot of his success to his family, especially his stepfather and north Queensland rugby league stalwart, Roy Baira.

“I started playing rugby league in under 6s and it was because of my stepfather,” Tapau said.

“He was really big on football and him and mum thought it would be good to put us in sport. I just grew up to love it and I’ve always looked up to my stepdad.

“He has a real eye for the game, he sees everything different and is real smart. I’ve always listened to him talk about football and it’s grown on me and I think I see it how he sees it… I can see what I need to do and where I need to get to.

“Roy taught me everything I know. I wouldn’t be the footy player I am today without his influence on my game.

“He’s always there. When he gives his feedback, he’s telling me because he wants me to learn and take on that info and advice, and better myself. It’s all the little things that will help my game and help me in the long run.

“I’ve always had a big, supportive family, especially from my mum’s side. She has a lot of siblings so it’s really good. I have a lot of support around me.

“My stepdad too, he wasn’t scared to take on that role of raising us. Mum already had three kids when they met and he took it on real well and we have a real strong, tight-knit family.”

So supportive are Tapau’s family, they helped lead the voting charge for him in the Auswide Bank 'player to bank on', with his grandmother in the Torres Strait Islands ringing him in the lead up to his win to tell him that “everyone” was voting for him.

Through Baira’s support, Tapau started playing with Townsville Brothers in under 6s and is still with them today.

Over the course of his time in the game, Tapau has represented his region, played Cyril Connell Challenge with the Blackhawks and is in the final season of a three-year deal with the North Queensland Cowboys.

He hopes to secure another deal, whether it be with the Cowboys or elsewhere, but for now his major focus is Sunday’s final.

Elijah-Shane Tapau. Photo: Townsville Blackhawks
Elijah-Shane Tapau. Photo: Townsville Blackhawks

In his first year of the Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup, Tapau missed the opening round through injury and then started the season on the bench, but has worked hard to push his way into the starting side. He has been named to start again in Sunday’s decider.

“This season’s been real good,” Tapau said.

“I knew a lot of the older boys that played Mal before me and I watched all their games and I liked the intensity of it.

“I started the year coming off the bench into the backrow. Then (coach) Zeb (Kyle) was happy with my performance and how I’d been playing over the first few weeks and he let me know at training I would be starting against Capras (in Round 5).

“We started with a big squad at the ‘Hawks and it’s been trimmed down over time. When they named the last squad and I was in there and I saw I was on the bench, it didn’t make me angry but I knew I had to really work to get my foot through the door to get that starting role.

“I texted Zeb and I asked him for feedback, asked what I could do to maybe get my foot in the door and show I can start and I’m ready for it.

“He just told me to play my role, know my job, carry hard and have consistent carries, protect my half – do everything a second rower is known to do.”

While Tapau’s dedicated family won’t be able to travel down to Brisbane to witness him in action this Sunday, he will take everything he’s learnt from them into the match.

This is Townsville’s third straight year qualifying for the Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup grand final, with their last win in 2016.

Tapau’s brother Tyreice Baira-Gela played in the 2021 grand final for Townsville while Roy Baira was the coach of the Blackhawks’ under 18s in last year’s competition.

If the Blackhawks finally manage to get a win this Sunday, Tapau knows this one won’t just be for him and his teammates.

Given Townsville’s recent history of coming close, but not quite close enough in the Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup, he knows what a win would mean to the community and his family.

“Watching my dad and his team go to the grand final last year when they got taken out by the Magpies, I looked at that and thought, ‘I want to be there’,” he said.

“The year prior, one of my older brothers was in the grand final for Mal Meninga as well, at home in Townsville. I watched their home game and to see them lose at home, it wasn’t a good feeling.

“But the way that they really fought and how good of a season they had, I watched him and I was like, ‘I want to be there.’

“As a club we’re still keeping that strong connection going from the past. We have a real tight team, I trust everyone in this team. That’s the reason why we’ve come so far - we always turn up for each other.

“It would mean everything to win this weekend. It would be good for the community itself in Townsville. We don’t have as many trophies as we want from over the years so it would be good to bring it back for Townsville.”

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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