Wednesday 22 August 2018

Former binman Paenga-Amosa hitting high notes

Wallaby hooker repays faith shown by coaches as his sudden rise to stardom makes headlines

Brandon Paenga-Amosa. Photo: Getty Images
Brandon Paenga-Amosa. Photo: Getty Images

Rúaidhrí O’Connor in Melbourne

If there is one thing this Australia squad is not short on, it is interesting back-stories and starting hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa doesn't disappoint.

You might have noticed the big front-rower's impassioned rendition of 'Advance Australia Fair' before kick-off last Saturday which has made headlines across the local media since the game, and he followed up with a physical display.

His lineout throwing might not have been perfect, but that was long forgotten when he was presented with his first cap in the dressing-room after the game.

A year ago, Paenga-Amosa was an unheralded club player who was spotted by Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn who offered him a route into professional rugby.

With Stephen Moore retired and Tatafu Polata-Nau rested after a long season with Leicester, Michael Cheika was in need of a fresh face at hooker and went with the Auckland born 22-year-old who grew up in Bankside outside Sydney.

Never picked for underage representative squads while at school, he worked for eight months collecting garbage before turning to gardening to support his theology studies.

All the time, he held out a distant hope of becoming a professional but his sudden rise has come as a surprise to himself. And he's determined to make the most of it.

"I am still pinching myself, it has been a crazy few days, so surreal, so heartwarming as well, I am just loving every single second of it," he said yesterday as he recalled his first cap.

He is fully aware of the stir his singing has caused amongst Australians and he explained how the moment brought home the enormity of his achievement.

"Oh man, I was standing by Keps (Sekope Kepu), and he's got a real good singing voice," he recalled. "He should be an opera singer, that guy, he was singing so well and I was like 'man'. I just went for it then.

"I love Australia and Australia has done a lot for me and my family, I am really proud of Australia. I like the country and I just wanted to belt out the national anthem as much as I could.

"I was really emotional in the locker rooms, and when I put on the gold jersey, when I walked out with the team, when I stood next to Keps, and Scotty (Sio), for me, it was a real special moment.

"Standing there, hearing those words, I'm thinking back to the second my parents moved over here, coming here for a better life, and it's just the journey, the journey of me, my family, it just flashed before me, where I've come from, what we've been through, all the sacrifices we had to make to help me get to where we are today.

"For me, what got me really emotional was looking over at my family in the stands, I saw them, the 30 of them or so, I saw they were tearing up as well, and for me seeing that, seeing them wear green and gold jerseys.

"They're all Kiwis, we came from Auckland, and when I'm talking about sacrifices, I mean the double-jobbing my parents did to help us, I'm talking about what mum and dad have told me they did when we were younger.

"They'd eat bread, nothing more for their dinner, and they only had enough money to get me a chicken breast, so they did that to make sure I wasn't hungry, and that I could get the proper nutrients I needed, and stuff like that.

Sacrifices

"Actually moving here from New Zealand, it is not easy, moving away from all the family. There are so many sacrifices we've made along the way, the birthdays we've missed from family who are back in New Zealand, all that came into my head, all those things, to get me to where I am today.

"I learnt a lot as a garbage man, through my studies, through landscaping, all the odd jobs that I did.

"It really helped me to be the man that I am today. Being a garbo taught me all the ins and outs of the world, taught me a lot about being a man. It really helped me grow up quick, eh."

Now, his focus is on doing it all again in Melbourne and he is expecting an Irish backlash.

"Oh definitely, Ireland is a great team," he said. "There's a reason why they are second in the world, they are going to come out even bigger and stronger this week."

On Saturday, he'll be singing loud and proud once again as a remarkable journey continues.

Irish Independent

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