Murray Kinsella reports from Surfers Paradise
DID YOU HEAR the one about the Mormon missionary who swapped Uber driving for a Wallabies debut?
Caleb Timu’s life has been far from a joking matter, with the Queensland Reds back row having worked hard and kept the faith to put himself in contention to win his first Australia cap this weekend against Ireland.
The 24-year-old is hot property Down Under thanks to his explosive form in Super Rugby and he could even start against the tourists in Brisbane on Saturday.
David Pocock and Michael Hooper are expected to be in Australia boss Michael Cheika’s back row but the final spot has been up for grabs and Timu – in competition with Pete Samu and Lukhan Tui – is an exciting possibility.
Joe Schmidt name-checked 6ft 3ins and 117kg Timu last week and Cheika can be sure of a big work rate and dynamic impact if he backs the uncapped forward to start or come off the bench at Suncorp Stadium.
Born in New Zealand to Samoan parents, Timu moved to Australia with his family when he was four, growing up to be a promising rugby player.
Having starred in rugby union for the Australian Schoolboys, Timu became a professional rugby league player with the Brisbane Broncos.
However, his strong religious upbringing – he is a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints – led to a decision to put his rugby career on hold and become a missionary at the age of 19, departing to New Zealand and Samoa for two years.
When he got home to Australia, Timu’s ability meant the Broncos re-signed him but his bargaining position was weak and he had to take on another job to stay afloat.
With his wife, Pam, expecting their first child, Timu downloaded the Uber app and got to work.
“I had just come back from my mission,” said Timu this week before a Wallabies training session at Ballymore Stadium in Brisbane. “As you can imagine, the money was not the best, because I hadn’t played any rugby for two years, or any sports.
“I’d just got married, I was 21, my wife was pregnant, expecting our first child, and I did my ACL just after moving to the Reds.
“And 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.
“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.”
Even having been lured back into rugby union by the Reds ahead of the 2017 season, Timu had to keep up the moonlighting on Uber.
Ensuring he could provide for this first daughter, Kalisi, was all the motivation he needed to drag himself out for a shift after a long day of training with the Brisbane-based club.
Having seen his own father breaking his back to provide for the young Caleb, he had an ideal role model too.
“I knew I had to man up,” said Timu. “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, and so I knew from an early age that fathers aren’t just preoccupied from feeding your own mouth but have to provide for others.
“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 rep 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.
“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.”
Kalisi is now two, while Timu’s second daughter, Etuate, is four-months-old and they remain the driving force in his life.
“I’m a proud father. 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.”
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