How Brandon Paenga-Amosa went from All Blacks die-hard to Wallabies hooker

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

When Brandon Paenga-Amosa was a child he used to strap his knee before every rugby game.

Not because he was injured, but because he wanted to emulate his rugby idol, All Blacks great Carlos Spencer, who donned the bandages as he recovered from an injury.

That phase, followed by a string of Jonah Lomu-style haircuts, only lasted about a year but his All Blacks fandom stretched well into his teens.

An eight-year-old Paenga-Amosa was in tears at his first live Wallabies Test match - the World Cup semi-final between Australia and New Zealand - as he watched Stirling Mortlock streak away to secure a victory.

“I watched Stirling Mortlock get that intercept try and that game was probably the first game I remember that I actually watched live," Paenga-Amosa said.

“I was crying (afterwards) but it is what it is.”

Fast forward to 2011 and a 16-year-old Paenga-Amosa was the Wallabies flag bearer when they took on South Africa in the then Tri-Nations.

“I remember I was standing next to Rocky Elsom - he was the skipper that game and I was standing next to him and I was like 'he's massive', so it's pretty cool.

“He just looked at me and (gave me) the ‘Island nod’, and it was like, ‘Yeah he knows what's up’.’"

It wasn’t until he was nearly in adulthood when his Test allegiance truly switched, having lived his life in Sydney.

“It started slowly happening when I was finishing school - when I finished school I started to realise Australia has made me the player I am today. Like, Australia's done this, this, this and this for me and my family,” he said.

“So, that was when I was like I've got to start going for the Wallabies because it's my heart. I'm Australian through and through, I love the Wallabies.

“I should go for the Wallabies, so that's when my heart started to change.”

Anyone who watched the 22-year-old sing the Australian anthem in his Wallabies debut in June would not be questioning his dedication to the cause.

Vision of him belting out the anthem went viral and the reaction is something even he was taken aback by.

"I didn't realise how nuts it went until a kid came up to me and he said, 'Hey man, I've really fallen in love with Australia even more just from seeing you see that national anthem'.

"For me, I'm just like, ‘woah I'm just trying to sing a national anthem and someone's getting inspired by that. I was really honoured, I was pretty touching moment when I saw that kid."

His passion is a by-product of an appreciation of where he is now and where he could be if he had made different decisions.

Paenga-Amosa is religious and studied theology before his rugby ascension, visiting juvenile detentions centres and speaking to troubled youth looking to turn their lives around.

“It was full on. I saw a lot of crazy things, I saw a lot of real unfortunate young kids, unfortunate young men that just from making one wrong decision, just ended up there,” he said.

“A lot of them, though, (they’ve) got lovely hearts.

“The kids are loving, the boys, a lot of them are real humble so it was really humbling for me to go back there and teach that.

“It really taught me that not everyone has the blessing of having parents or active parents in the household.

“My road wasn't that easy - it was a lot easier than many other boys out there, than some boys that have made wrong decisions that are in places they wouldn't want to be in forever.

“I'd say definitely for myself, I'm very appreciative of it all.”

The Wallabies host the All Blacks in the first Bledisoe on Saturday August 18, kicking off at 8:05pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RADIO, with the Wallaroos taking on the Black Ferns from 5:15pm AEST as well. Buy tickets here.