Melbourne: Lopeti Timani, the youngest brother of three Tonga-born internationals, was a battering ram on Super Rugby fields this year and the 25-year-old forward will hope to be a smash hit off the bench in his Wallabies Test debut against Argentina.
On Friday, the back-rower-turned-lock was confirmed in the match-day 23 for Saturday’s clash at Perth Oval, following in the footsteps of his hulking brother Sitaleki who earned 18 caps as a lock between 2011-13.
The oldest of the three brothers, 32-year-old lock Sione, has been capped seven times for Tonga, the island nation that has produced plenty of rugby talent but struggled to retain it from the sport’s more powerful nations.
Tonga, currently coached by former Wallaby Toutai Kefu, also hoped to keep Lopeti after losing Sitaleki to Australian rugby five years ago and may well have had their man had Cheika not swooped during the ongoing Rugby Championship.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a very long time. I was very excited when I got selected as was my family back in Tonga,” Timani told reporters in Perth on Friday.
“They’re very proud of me but they’re kind of nervous too because it’s another big step in my career.
“[Sitaleki’s] very happy. He wasn’t happy that I didn’t get selection in June. He’s always helped me through playing rugby.”
Lopeti Timani, who weighs about 124 kilograms, is called ‘Pet’ by his teammates in an abbreviation of his name but described as ‘scary’ by his Melbourne Rebels coach Tony McGahan and a ‘hit-man’ by local rugby media.
McGahan joked that his Rebels teammates had tried to cut off the 6ft-4in forward’s ‘rat’s tail’ that trails down the back of his neck but no one could work up the courage to approach him with a pair of scissors.
“I can tell you no one wants to get in front of him at training and line up in his grid,” McGahan told local media. “He rattles teeth most weeks.” Cheika said he had been “knocking lumps” out of Wallabies at training and will be straining at the leash at Perth Oval.
Starting as a back-rower, Timani has been refashioned into a lock at the Rebels but is seen as a possible solution to the Wallabies’ lack of specialist number eights.
Cheika has employed Michael Hooper and David Pocock, two specialist open side flankers, in the back row since the World Cup but has enjoyed less mileage from the ploy in the Rugby Championship.
“I would love to play number eight but when I moved to the Rebels they’ve got a lot of backrowers,” said Timani.
“I told the coach, ‘I don’t mind if you put me in the second row or front row, at least I’m on the field playing football.
“But you can read the game better from the back of the scrum.” Not yet the cleanest user of the ball, Timani still has a number of rough edges to his game and may not be expected to dazzle with his skill against the Pumas.
“I’ve known Pet for a while, he was in the academy at the [New South Wales] Waratahs when I was there and the Timanis are big units, you realise that pretty quick,” said Wallabies back-rower Dean Mumm.
“I think I’ve noticed from that time to now how much he’s grown as a player.
“I can’t wait to see what he can do, he’s a terrific player. He’s going to hit hard, he’s going to carry hard. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.”