WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Australia could soon be ruing the fact that they twice let Tyrel Lomax slip from the grasp before he fell into the welcoming arms of their biggest rivals across the Tasman Sea.
The 22-year-old Australian-born tighthead prop, who grew up playing rugby league, was named in an extended All Blacks squad on Monday to play Japan next month, and will then link up with the Maori All Blacks for away matches against Brazil and Chile.
It could, however, have all ended up very differently.
The hulking Lomax, who stands 1.92m tall and weighs 127kg, was born and bred in Australia, and played rugby league until he switched to the 15-man code in his final two years of secondary school in Canberra.
The son of former New Zealand rugby league international John Lomax, who moved to Australia in 1993 to join the Canberra Raiders, then made the Australian under-20 rugby union side.
While he was given a training group contract with his hometown ACT Brumbies in Super Rugby, the Melbourne Rebels swooped and he signed a two-year deal in 2016.
He played for the Rebels in 2017 but also made no secret of his desire to play for the All Blacks, and was enticed across the Tasman Sea when New Zealand Rugby secured a release for him to join the Otago Highlanders.
Lomax initially struggled with the rigours of the tighthead role in the senior ranks, but got up to speed in a hurry and is now a dominant force in New Zealand’s semi-professional provincial championship.
Despite helping provincial side Tasman into this weekend’s championship semi-finals, Lomax said he had been surprised to be called into the extended 51-man squad named by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen to play Japan on Nov. 3.
“As a tighthead prop, you’ve got to have a lot of patience and it takes a while to learn your trade, so I wasn’t expecting it to be this quick,” Lomax told Fairfax Media on Wednesday. “I’m stoked.”
His father, was similarly “stoked” at his elevation, even though his family name was synonymous with rugby league in New Zealand in the 1990s.
John played 15 times for New Zealand’s national rugby league team and totalled more than 100 first grade games in Australia’s National Rugby League as a hard-running front rower for the Raiders, North Queensland Cowboys and Melbourne Storm.
“It’s a different sport to what my family would probably like, they’re pretty into their league,” Lomax added. “(But) he’s pretty proud, eh. He’s stoked for me. He said ‘congratulations, well done’, and to make the family proud.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O'Brien