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The former binman and theology student who has cracked the Wallabies

Brandon Paenga-Amosa had a remarkable rise over the last year.

Murray Kinsella reports from Melbourne

DAVID POCOCK’S BREAKDOWN nous and Kurtley Beale’s playmaking skills have made them popular Wallabies in the wake of last weekend’s win over Ireland, but Brandon Paenga-Amosa has left a huge impression on the public too.

The 22-year-old hooker made his Test debut for Michael Cheika’s side in Brisbane on Saturday and had roared himself to a new fan base around Australia before the game even got underway.

BPA

Already having impressed people with his remarkable rise from Sydney club rugby to the Wallabies squad in the space of a year, Paenga-Amosa’s emotional rendition of the Australian national anthem last weekend was a real breakthrough moment.

A native of New Zealand who moved to Australia with his family when he was a child, colourful character Paenga-Amosa first jokes when asked about his passion during the anthem.

“Oh man, I was standing by Keps [Sekope Keou], and he’s got a real good singing voice. He should be an opera singer that guy, he was singing so well and I was like, ‘man!’ I just went for it then.”

Behind the fun is the story of a journey that fills Paenga-Amosa with pride.

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

Paenga-Amosa was born in Auckland before his parents moved to Sydney, where he first played rugby league before a switch to union at the age of 15 with the Southern Districts club, who he went on to represent in the Shute Shield club competition.

His family were far from wealthy and Paenga-Amosa began working as a binman straight after finishing school, meaning 4am starts each morning, while he also had spells as a landscaper, scaffolder and labourer.

Paenga-Amosa also studied theology and did a stint as a youth worker in a local school, but his dream was to be a professional rugby player.

Having been ignored by the Super Rugby franchises out of school, the hooker instead battled away in the Shute Shield until he earned a shot in the National Rugby Championship – Australian’s second tier – with the Greater Sydney Rams in 2016.

RUGBY WALLABIES SCHOOL VISIT Paenga-Amosa is a popular and likeable character. Source: AAP/PA Images

He moved on to the NSW Country Eagles last year, when a rise to the top of Australian rugby still looked a long, long way off.

But Paenga-Amosa’s form with the Eagles impressed none other than Brad Thorn, who took over as head coach of the Queensland Reds this year and dialled up the hooker to give him a shot in professional rugby.

12 impressive Super Rugby starts under Thorn later and with the Wallabies missing the retired Stephen Moore, unavailable Tatafu Polota-Nau and injured Jordan Uelese, Cheika turned to the Reds hooker for last weekend’s first Test against Ireland.

Having shed tears of joy at being told he was in the Wallabies squad, it was understandable that Paenga-Amosa would feel the emotion again as the Aussie anthem rang out in Brisbane before his debut.

“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 and 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, stuff like that.

“Actually moving here from New Zealand is not easy, moving away from all the family.

SUPER RUGBY REDS BULLS The hooker has been in good form for the Reds this year. Source: AAP/PA Images

“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 that helped to get me to where I am today.”

When it came to doing his job on the pitch, there were clear nerves in Paenga-Amosa’s performance, although the unfamiliarity of a Wallabies lineout that was still getting to grips with their calls was partly at fault for a couple of overthrows.

The hooker is hoping another shot in the green and gold jersey in Melbourne this weekend will allow him to give a better account of himself.

“I don’t think I will have as many nerves as I did last week. I am just focusing on my job – on my defence, carries, set-piece, all that sort of stuff,” he says.

“I just know that this week I don’t have to go and do everyone else’s job. I watched my game and there were a lot of extra things I was trying to do because I was so energetic. It was my first cap and I was running around like a headless chicken but I think this week I will just focus on my job.”

But even after a debut where he didn’t quite show the best of himself, Paenga-Amosa is grateful to be on this stage.

“Honestly, I am truly blessed to be here. God has blessed me big time. It has been a crazy journey but it has definitely made me the man I am today.”

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Murray Kinsella

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