The next Israel Folau, they called him.
“I will never be the next Izzy Folau, I will be Joe Tomane. I want to be me.”
The moniker followed Tomane at high school, and then at Melbourne Storm, but it was Folau who followed Tomane to rugby, and now they stand side by side as Wallabies aspirants.
Your Wallabies Vote
Cast your vote for the players you think should line up in the centres against the Lions.
Tomane is no longer overshadowed, but sharing the light with the man many thought he was destined to be.
“It was a bit unfair, because I knew I didn’t have the … Izzy and I have different talents in games,” Tomane said.
“So it was a little bit unfair, but that comes with the territory. Every kid now that comes up through the under-20s system in league, they are the ‘next Izzy Folau’ or the ‘next Greg Inglis’.
British and Irish Lions
Check out the dates for all 10 matches on the British and Irish Lions’ tour of Australia.
“There is always high expectations from everyone, it’s something you have got to cope with.
“Looking back now, I am glad I took the path I did. It gives me a chance to forge my own image.”
It was an easy comparison to make, given Tomane and Folau, sizable and skilful outside backs, went to the same school, Queensland’s Marsden State High, and wound up at Melbourne Storm, where they played just once together in the NRL.
“I grew up with Izzy, I was a year below him at the same high school, I knew a lot about him as a young ’un,” Tomane said. “I was in awe when I saw him doing so well when he left high school.
“I was amazed at how well he was going, but not surprised, because I always knew he was going to do big things.”
But Tomane never managed to reach the same heights Folau achieved in his record-breaking debut season.
He showed flashes of his brilliance, but after two years at the Storm he moved to Gold Coast Titans and faded into anonymity.
While Folau was becoming the youngest player in State of Origin and Kangaroos history, Tomane was becoming a father to daughter Starsha, now four.
While Folau was signing a $6 million deal to switch to AFL, Tomane was running around in Queensland Cup park footy.
Tomane returned to rugby, his childhood sport, after an approach from Brumbies assistant coach Stephen Larkham in 2011, while Folau made his more highly publicised defection five months ago.
For two players, so closely linked, yet who took such different roads, it was a story come full circle when last Sunday both Tomane, 23, and Folau, 24, were selected in Robbie Deans’ Wallabies squad to face the British Irish Lions.
“It is surreal, it’s been six or seven years since high school, five years since the Storm days, and the chance of playing with each other again is unbelievable,” Tomane said.
“From the same high school, to the same NRL team, and now all these years later in the same Australian squad, it’s just crazy.”
As fate would have it, Tomane and Folau could be battling for the same wing spot in the team.
“Robbie knows what he wants to beat the Lions, if I am the best man for the job then I’m happy, if Izzy is the best man for the job, I’m also going to be happy,” Tomane said.
“Either way, I’m just glad to be given a chance, and I’m going to be working hard to put myself in that position to be selected.”
Tomane, who made his Test debut last year against Scotland, has given himself a chance by overhauling his mindset, courtesy of Brumbies coach Jake White and strength and conditioning coach Dean Benton,
“I came down with the attitude, good is good enough,” said Tomane, who opposes Super Rugby’s top try-scorer Frank Halai when the Brumbies play the Blues in Auckland tomorrow.
“What I considered good wasn’t up to Jake’s standards.
“Jake put it in my head, ‘You don’t want to be good, you want to be great’.
“What I’ve done is up the standards of my game, I put the focus on trying to improve every aspect of my game.
“I got all my work ethic from Jake, Dean and my teammates.
“Jake and Dean really drove home to me that I shouldn’t just be happy being the same player each and every year
“And there are a lot of players down here who have a point to prove, seeing them work hard and make a career for themselves, that is what I lost in those middle years
“I took things for granted, I was lucky to be given another opportunity, because not many people do get a second chance
“I am going to suck the juices right out of this opportunity.
Should he do so, there might be an unintended consequence
He may not like it, but in 12 years, when the 2025 Lions side is touring Australia and an emerging young Wallabies star is tipped to have superstar influence, they might dub him the ‘next Joe Tomane’.