Taupau nominated for Ken Stephen Medal after heroic Samoa campaign

Martin Taupau never imagined that a conversation with his wife would evolve into a mammoth Christmas Relief toy drive for Samoa amid their measles epidemic.

The Sea Eagles prop, who is of Samoan heritage, has been nominated for the Ken Stephen Medal, proudly brought to you by My Property Consultants, for spearheading the campaign at the end of last year.

More than 5700 measles cases and 83 deaths - most of them under the age of five - were reported due to the outbreak.

Taupau and wife Michelle, the NRL's community relations manager, were "devastated" as the tragic situation unfolded.

"We couldn't believe it. We know how Samoa doesn't have the same resources that we have in Australia and New Zealand," Taupau said.

With some charitable organisations providing sanitary products to Samoa, the Taupaus focused on acquiring donations of unwrapped toys and clothing to bring some much-needed festive joy.

"And then one thing led to another, we put it out there in our circles and then it got projected out there in the NRL community. Everyone jumped on board," Taupau said.

Gift drop-off points were set up at various Leagues Clubs and stadiums as NRL players promoted the drive on social media.

Taupau was flooded with messages from people, both inside and outside the footy world, wanting to lend a hand.

He struck partnerships with Samoan Airways, Red Cross and Rugby League Samoa and recruited All Blacks legend Ma'a Nonu and entertainer Tofiga, who are both of Samoan descent, to join the cause.

After helping to package all the gifts, Taupau got on a plane to the Pacific nation to boost the spirits of families doing it extremely tough.

"At the start, planning the gifts and everything, it was cool, it was hectic, it was so fast-paced," Taupau said.

"Fast-forward to the airport: heavy lifting, backbreaking stuff, stress like no other. Once we landed in Samoa and got everything in place and then headed out to the community, it was confronting.

"I was overflowing with deep sadness. Being a father as well, it was like a dagger in my heart. Seeing these families, these communities, in villages in Samoa that were heavily affected."

Taupau's group visited hospitals and were invited into homes where they experienced "a hurricane of emotions".

The fact they were able to ease the pain in some way with their presence and gifts was a significant result.

"It would honestly have to be in the top two, top three of my proudest achievements in the rugby league community," Taupau said.

"Being of Samoan heritage and doing this for my community and showing my elders, my ancestors that are there in spirit that we are here."

And that was far from the only good deed of Taupau's in recent times. He has regularly been part of Manly's Boomerang wellbeing program as well as Come and Try football clinics.

"Most of those young kids [at clinics] are a similar age to my little ones," Taupau said, adding, "when I go out and represent Manly in amongst kids that just love being active, I love that."

He also worked with his gear sponsor, Puma, to provide laundry bags to frontline medical staff at The Children's Hospital at Westmead in April so they could safely store their scrubs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The front-rower will participate in the Move4Dignity virtual exercise initiative in October to raise funds and awareness for period poverty.

With community always at the forefront of his mind, Taupau is fully aware of the Ken Stephen Medal's prestigious history.

"It's a huge honour and privilege to even be nominated," he said.


Photo NRL