As he prepares for his 100th appearance for the club this weekend in the do or die final against the Roosters, raiders.com.au sat down with Joe Tapine to discuss the road to his milestone match.
When Joe Tapine joined the club from Newcastle as 21-year-old with a handful of NRL games under his belt, there was plenty of pressure. Not just from those outside the club but teammates as well.
“When I came, Josh Papalii was mocking me a bit about being on alright money and when the boys start saying that you feel a bit more pressure but the pressure didn’t really faze me that much,” Tapine said. “I like pressure, it makes me perform better.”
In round three of the 2016 season, Tapine made his Raiders debut against his former club in what was a game of high intensity for the young forward.
“I remember running on the field and I was getting booed because it was in Newcastle, so that was a funny feeling,” Tapine recalls. “Both my NRL and Raiders debut were there, and they are both special to me.
“We drew that game, so I was shattered because I really wanted to get one up on them. Every time I played Newcastle it was a tough game, like we never have an easy one with them. It’s been a pretty hard rivalry.”
In the five years following his debut with the Raiders, Joe Tapine has been an important contributor to the team’s performance, but his flashes of brilliance were mixed with periods out of the side due to injury and suspension.
Following the conclusion of the 2019 season, the Kiwi international realised he needed to address these two areas of his game to truly reach his potential and the influence of newly re-signed forward Sia Soliola was crucial.
“I was known for suspensions and having a hot head and I really wanted to not have that hanging over me. It’s pretty draining after a while,” Tapine said. “I see Sia and he goes hard but has a steady head on him all the time when he plays. So, I thought he was a good role model for me to look up to.
“I always watch how Sia holds himself around the club and how he talks in meetings. He’s very mature. I think that was one thing I wanted to improve in my game, specifically this year.”
The changes Tapine has made to his game has shown him that being calmer on the field doesn’t mean he has lost his competitive edge.
“I think it was more ego,” Tapine said. “You don’t want to back down but sometimes you forget that it’s a footy game.
“You want to show dominance but there’s certain ways to do it. You probably laugh at people who push you. It’ll tick them off more than if you actually push them back.”
The newfound maturity in his game has seen Tapine learn how to react, especially if things aren’t going his way on the field.
“Everything is a challenge and I’m probably my harshest critic. I watch my games and if I see myself starting to get dominated in games and not winning tackles and runs, I get pretty up myself,” Tapine said. “If you’re not dominating, not letting it get under your skin is important. You try and get back to your game otherwise you’re going to get stuck in that rut.”
Tapine also married his long-term partner Kirsten shortly after last year’s Grand Final and her influence on his career and mentality has been another key reason in his success.
“I’m my worse critic, she’s probably my second,” Tapine laughed. “She talked to me about controlling my anger and stuff like that and we’ve done different things, but she’s always backed me.
“She’s got more confidence in me than I have in myself so that really helps me and she always pushes me to be better. She’s real big on mindfulness. I’m a bit hesitant but I’ve actually grown to love it.
“It’s like appreciating things, looking at different perspectives. Not just getting angry at everything and realising what you have and not being down. Being positive.”
Having improved his on-field discipline, Tapine knew he needed to improve his training to overcome the niggling injuries that had littered his career so far.
“The boys know that I’m terrible in the gym,” Tapine said. “I’ve always hated gym growing up, I was always weak in the gym.”
With the help of the club’s Rehabilitation and Athletic Development coach Ryan Clayton, Tapine has found a different way for him to ensure he is in peak condition.
“He’s actually written me a gym program which is more catered to me and I don’t do all the heavy bar work,” Tapine said. “I prepare well with my weights now. I used to walk into the gym and walk around and walk out, but now I’m in there actually over an hour doing my work.
“He’s really helped me and because I’ve spent a lot of time with him in rehab so me and him work really good together.”
As a result, Tapine has only missed one game in 2020 due to injury and was also rested alongside a host of stars in the final game of the regular season.
“If I played that I would have been a guaranteed to reach 100 games this year so it put a bit of pressure on last week because we had to win for me to reach my 100,” Tapine said.
The Kiwi international is certainly looking forward to reaching that milestone this weekend and is stoked about the achievement.
“When I see the other boys reach their 100th game and Brett Dickson [Raiders Football Assistant] reads out the statistic that not many people have done it at this club. For me, as a young fella you’re stoked to play one game,” Tapine said. “To play 100 at one club, especially this club where I’ve built my life around, it’s pretty special.
“My wife has settled in really well and we’re looking to build a family and we’ve now got a lot of family and friends around here. This town has really grown on me and I just want to stay around and try and give back to the club as much as I can.”
Focusing on the match ahead of him this weekend, Tapine is focusing on getting a win to keep the Raiders season alive and also avenging last year’s Grand Final loss which came in his 100th NRL game.
“This time we’ve got to get that win,” Tapine said. “Last year in the Grand Final, my 100th NRL game, I was hoping but it didn’t come true so this year we’ll get that I hope.”