If Lopeti Timani had not been called up for this weekend’s Perth Test, there’s a fair chance he would have given up on his Wallabies dream.
Timani has been courted by Tonga coach Toutai Kefu in recent months in a bid to lure the 25-year-old into the national side of his home country, for whom older brother Sione has played.
The Melbourne Rebels forward said had things not gone his way in the Wallabies arena this season, he would have strongly considered the move and heading overseas at the end of 2017.
“Kefu has been trying to talk to me the last five, six months or so and I was happy to play for Tonga, I was just waiting for this to see what happened with the Australian Rugby Union,” he said.
“If I'm not part of the squad I'd try and play for Tonga at the end of the year and maybe move overseas at the end of next year's season.
Now, he’s set for his Test debut and as he said simply on Friday, ‘Now, I’m a Wallaby’.
Lopeti is the second Wallabies representative in his family, following in the footsteps of another brother, Sitaleki's footsteps and said he had sought advice from the Clermont lock throughout his career.
“When he was first capped playing he was a bit nervous, like I was saying before, pretty much the same with me, you take probably one or two games to get confident,” he said.
“To be honest, he's always helped me and he said to go in and do my best.”
Timani sat alongside Dean Mumm on Friday afternoon, a teammate on the verge of his 50th Test and someone who has seen his development from quiet, raw rookie into one of the newest Australian players.
Mumm was at the Waratahs when Lopeti and older brother Sitaleki were both at NSW and said there was one obvious commonality.
“I've known ‘Pet; for a while because he was in the Waratahs Academy for a while and the Timanis are certainly, they're big units and you realise that pretty early on,” he said.
“What I've noticed from ‘Pet’ in that time to now is how much he's grown as a player and how capable and how willing he is to interact with the group on a number of elements and that's a huge growth for Lopeti.
“I'm really pumped to see that. I can't wait to see what he can do because he's a terrific player.”
As for what his mission will be on the weekend, Mumm said there was no need to complicate things for the debutant beyond carrying the ball and laying big hits on.
“It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that for Lopeti, he's bloody good at it,” he said.
“He’s going to hit hard, he's going to carry hard and he's going to come across at the back end of the game, some guys that might not be as sharp as they were at the start and it's a terrific opportunity for him in that position.”
The Wallabies host the Pumas at nib Stadium on Saturday night, kicking off at 8:05pm AEST.
1. Scott Sio (21 Tests)
2. Stephen Moore (c) (108 Tests)
3. Sekope Kepu (69 Tests)
4. Rob Simmons (63 Tests)
5. Adam Coleman (3 Tests)
6. Dean Mumm (49 Tests)
7. Michael Hooper (57 Tests)
8. David Pocock (59 Tests)
9. Will Genia (69 Tests)
10. Quade Cooper (60 Tests)
11. Reece Hodge (2 Tests)
12. Bernard Foley (33 Tests)
13. Samu Kerevi (4 Tests)
14. Dane Haylett-Petty (6 Tests)
15. Israel Folau (44 Tests)
16. Tatafu Polota-Nau (67 Tests)
17. James Slipper (80 Tests)
18. Tom Robertson*
19. Rory Arnold (3 Tests)
20. Lopeti Timani*
21. Sean McMahon (10 Tests)
22. Nick Phipps (44 Tests)
23. Tevita Kuridrani (37 Tests)
*denotes uncapped player