Tuesday 15 October 2019

Uncapped Timu navigating his way to the top

New Wallaby Caleb Timu. Photo: Chris Hyde/Getty Images
New Wallaby Caleb Timu. Photo: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Rúaidhrí O'Connor in Gold Coast

The route to international rugby is never simple, but new Wallaby Caleb Timu is well used to finding his way given his background as an Uber driver in Brisbane.

Since he guided Australia to the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, Michael Cheika has been steadily regenerating his squad and while the likes of Israel Folau, Will Genia and David Pocock will be familiar to Irish fans tuning into Saturday's first Test, others will be less recognisable and uncapped flanker Timu is one of those and he has taken an alternative route to the international game.

Born in Auckland to Samoan parents, he is a dual star who was once on the books of the Brisbane Broncos but spent two of his formative years as a Mormon missionary in New Zealand and Samoa before returning to rugby.

Recently married and with a baby on the way, he supplemented his rugby income by joining Uber as a driver and ferried people around Brisbane for a couple of years.

"I was still making a bit more from rugby, but this was helping fill some of the gaps," he recalled at Australia's open training session at Ballymore yesterday.

"It taught me to work hard and sacrifice. The work tended to be in the evening and early mornings, at weekends, that's when people need Ubers, so that's when I worked.

"Even in pre-season, I did some work then, too. I'd train during the day and then work at night.


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"Money was not the best, because I hadn't played any rugby for two years or any sports. I'd just got married, was 21, my wife was pregnant, expecting our first child, and I did my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) just after moving to the (Queensland) Reds.

"So, 'Ubering' came about because I'd tried to do some work on the side as a teacher aid, but because of the scheduling, I couldn't really commit to it.

"So I had to think of something that could be flexible, which was why I signed up as an Uber driver, because there were bills to pay and things to do around the house."

With the more experienced blindside Ned Hannigan not fit until the second Test in Melbourne, the No 6 jersey is up for grabs and the expectation locally is that Timu will get the nod alongside the established pair of Michael Hooper and David Pocock.

A powerful ball-carrier, he demonstrated his strengths with a score that was voted try of the week in Super Rugby for his rampaging effort against the Waratahs last weekend and he will look to take the game to Ireland on his debut if asked.

Stepping up to the international game is normally a daunting task, but now a father of two, Timu was forced to grow up quickly and is well used to taking responsibility.

"I knew I had to man up," he says of becoming a father young.

"My dad was a good example to me, he worked at a whole lot of jobs, he dropped out of school, he worked in factories, so I guess having a good role model like that taught you that a work ethic was important.

"I knew from an early age that fathers aren't just preoccupied from feeding your own mouth but have to provide for others. It was a good motivator, and in terms of footy, I really want to push myself and prove myself so that I can provide for my family.

"I'm a proud father. Kalisi (who is nearly two) and Etuate, who is four months. Being in camp, my wife has been left to do the nights so I am going home tonight to help out. I'll be away for a few weeks after this. It is a bit of a challenge.


"This is a massive honour, though, to be called into the national squad. It's something I have always wanted to do, now the goal has become a reality. If I was to play, it would be a dream come true for me and my family and for all the people who have made sacrifices for me to get to where I am today."

"Dad came from a family where he was raised by his mum.

"He didn't have a father figure growing up in Auckland, he dropped out of school to work and help out. He has worked his entire life in factories, always making sure he could provide for us.

"When I made my representative teams growing up, there were so many costs, you had to pay for the jerseys and the flights, and bear in mind we had six in our family, so to get by, my father had to go and find second jobs, third jobs, to help pay.

"He worked in a freezer factory doing extra stuff at night, so he'd come from his day's work, have his dinner, and then he'd go out to work again, all because he wanted to provide for his children, in this case, to pay for my footy stuff.

"He didn't have a dad and he always wanted to model being a good father.

"I couldn't have asked for a better dad. Now I'm a father and it's not just material stuff that I want to give my children but that love and care is the best thing a father can give their children."

On Saturday, it's likely they'll see him wear the gold jersey for the first time.

The hard work has paid off.

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