What happened to Leeds’ forgotten Grand Final winning New Zealander?

Some overseas signings make a lasting impression that fans remember forever. That’s often been the case at Leeds. The likes of Ali Lauitiiti, Kylie Leuluai and Brent Webb will always be remembered for the part they played in the golden years at Headingley.

These three all initially starred in the NRL and earned major representative honours before shining in Super League and winning multiple Grand Finals with the Rhinos. However, there’s another overseas signing of similar stature who many forget brought Super League success to Headingley in 2007: Clinton Toopi.

The Kiwi grew up rugby mad with ambitions of playing for his country one day whilst achieving success at club level. He’d go onto do both thanks to a successful stint at Leeds even if many forget the role he played in their glory.

After impressing in the junior ranks in New Zealand, Toopi debuted for the Auckland Warriors in the NRL against South Sydney in 1999. He’d remain at the club as they evolved over the next few years into a competitive force in the league. Come 2002, he helped the Warriors to the NRL Grand Final although victory in the decider alluded him on this occasion.

Over the next few years, he established himself as New Zealand’s top centre earning over 20 appearances for his national side and starring in the 2005 tri-nations even scoring a hat-trick against Australia. This underlined his now international reputation.

Subsequently, he caught the eye of Leeds. The Rhinos were looking to replace the departing Richie Mathers and Chev Walker with class from overseas. They acquired the services of New Zealand internationals Brent Webb and Toopi himself with a view of replicating their success in 2004.

Toopi arrived before Webb after he was granted early release. However, it wasn’t the fairytale first few months at Headingley he’d have hoped for. He and the Rhinos were dumped out of the 2006 play-offs in the first week. Thus, there was clear work to be done if the Rhinos were going to get back on top in 2007 and Toopi alongside Webb and fellow overseas signing Kylie Leuluai were going to be at the heart of it.

Toopi would play both centre and second-row throughout a successful campaign for the Rhinos even scoring a superb try against rivals St Helens at Headingley as the two clubs battled for top spot. Ultimately, St Helens claimed first place but the two teams would meet at Old Trafford with the biggest prize at stake.

On a wet night in Manchester, Toopi rewrote the wrongs of 2002 to help Leeds to Grand Final glory playing his part in Jamie Jones-Buchanan’s late try in a 33-6 win.

2008 promised to be just as good if not better for Toopi and the Rhinos. It certainly started off well with a World Club Challenge win over Melbourne however injury would leave him on the side lines for an awfully long time.

He made his return in July in a 46-8 win over Huddersfield before featuring in the Challenge Cup semi-final against St Helens. However, more heartbreak followed when he suffered a knee injury which would leave him out for a year. Following that setback, he was released from the final year of his contract.

He then enjoyed a brief stint in rugby union before a trial period at Gold Coast culminated in a contract with the club ahead of 2010. The centre did a fine job for the Titans over the next couple of years before retiring in 2011.

Following his retirement, he became an NRL Ambassador prior to taking over as NRL Community Program Deliverer in 2018 after impressing with his State of Mind campaign in Queensland. He’s also worked as an ambassador for the Preston Campbell Foundation and for Titans 4 Tomorrow. On top of this, he’s also done work as a personal trainer.

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