They’re known for their brute strength on the rugby pitch – but the Sheffield Eagles squad also have more sensitive side, Star reporter Rachael Clegg discovered.
RUGBY players are renowned for their muscle, toughness, strength and sheer force.
Watching a rugby team tear up the turf looks terrifying, thrilling and brutal.
So it may come as a surprise to learn that, in his spare time, the muscle-bound Sheffield Eagles player Misi Taulapapa is a keen drawer and a quiet, contemplative artist.
Between matches and training the Samoan centre is busy sketching and drawing.
“This is a hibiscus flower, which is symbolic in Samoan culture,” he says, pointing to a flower in the centre of a sheet of intricate patterns.
“I usually start with something like a flower in the centre and then move outwards and build on it from that.”
Misi is sitting at a table with his finished drawings and a blank sheet of large paper. He starts another picture, picking up his pen and delicately drawing a palm tree at the centre of the page.
It’s hard to imagine that within a matter of hours Misi will be launching himself into a scrum of six brickhouse-built men.
Misi’s images also take inspiration from Samoan tattoos.
“Tattoos are a big part of life in Samoa,” he says. “The traditional Samoan tattoo goes all the way down the back, across the arm and down to the thigh.
“It is very painful to have done, apparently, but about eight out of every 10 men will have a tattoo back at home.”
Misi’s own tattoo, by comparison, which runs ‘only’ all the way down his arm, took eight hours to complete. “It’s got all the Samoan symbolism in it and it was done in the traditional way, where they take animal bone, dip it in ink and tap it into the skin, making tiny punctures as they go along,” he says. “They don’t use needles.”
His tattoo is very similar to his striking pictures, which reveal a side of his character that isn’t seen on the pitch.
Tim Bergin, the team’s winger as well as its business and marketing manager, says: “The patterns Misi draws are really interesting.
“It’s nice for people to meet the players and see another side to them. Misi is one of the most interesting players because of his artistic side.”
But Misi doesn’t regard himself as an artist – to him his sketches are just doodles he does when the team is on tour, between matches.
“I find it really relaxing and it’s something I have always done,” he says. “I wanted to be an artist when I was a kid but I guess sport got in the way.
“My dad used to play rugby so as soon as I could I had a ball in my hand. But recently I’ve picked up drawing again.”
Drawing is also a way of keeping some continuity for Misi, who found moving to Sheffield a huge culture shock.
“The weather was the biggest deal at first but after a while I got used to it,” he says. “And at home, families do everything together and you see your family at least a few times a week. There are lots of family gatherings back at home, whereas here that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
But the Eagles players have created their own sense of family and camaraderie – they all live together, in Hillsborough.
“We are like family,” says Tim. “We do everything together, we play rugby together, we have lunch together every day, we hang out together, it is like a family.”
Misi laughs: “Sometimes a bit too much!”
Misi is not the only player with an intriguing background. Menze Yere, from Papua New Guinea, comes from a village on the top of a hill where people keep no record of birthdays. “In Menze’s village, births are taken care of in the village so records aren’t as accurately kept as they are here,” says Tim. “But rugby league is their national sport!”