Queensland Reds powerhouse Tupou has told his teammates he will leave for the Melbourne Rebels next season, the prop recovering from an Achilles tear and unlikely to feature in Super Rugby Pacific until then.
Tupou arrived at Ballymore as a teenager with a viral YouTube highlights reel but will depart as a 26-year-old father, just shy of 100 caps and among the club’s top-five tryscorers.
AAP understands there are no sour grapes at the Reds, who were aware Tongan-born Tupou sought a change of scenery after nine years in Brisbane.
He had been initially interested in a move overseas before the injury, while a recent change in management reinvigorated the prospect of a domestic move that’s expected to be confirmed imminently.
Tupou is targeting a return for the World Cup from September but – under current Rugby Australia selection rules – his shift to the Rebels means Wallabies coach Eddie Jones won’t need to use one of his import picks to call on the game-breaking prop beyond that.
The deal, reported to be a two-year contract, comes after fellow props Allan Alaalatoa (Brumbies) and Bell (Waratahs) signed deals with Rugby Australia seeing them through to a home World Cup in 2027.
Alaalatoa is a captaincy option under the new Jones era while Bell, 22, has already played 20 Tests and is highly-rated by the returning coach.
“He has the potential to be an important part of this year’s World Cup campaign and we’re looking forward to him working hard at Super Rugby level,” Jones said.
“He’s born-and-bred Sydney and a real example of the pathway systems working in Australia.”
Meanwhile incumbent Wallabies assistant Dan McKellar has been linked to the vacancy at English Premiership club Leicester, where he would replace new England coach Steve Borthwick.