Joe Tomane is an international Rugby Union player who represents Australia Born in New Zealand of Samoan heritage. He signed his first professional Rugby League contract with Melbourne Storm in the NRL while amazingly he was still at school, as well as making his debut for the Australian Youth team. Having begun his career as a Professional Rugby league player, he was able to return to his first love of Rugby Union and as a result go on to play professionally no just in Australia but France with Montpellier and then in Ireland for Leinster, where he currently plays.
When we asked Joe about his upbringing, he told us that he was very blessed to grow up in a family where although they weren’t rich in things, they were in culture and although they didn’t have much, his Dad worked hard to make sure the family had everything they needed. Growing up with 3 younger siblings, Joe reckoned that he ended up being the test dummy when it came to discipline, with his parents working out just what was best with him, so that by the time his brothers and sisters came along, the punishments got less and less. Joe said though, that because of that, he did grow up with a lot more respect for his elders and to be independent from a young age, with his family always making sure he’d do chores around the house, which also gave him a self-discipline that would stand him in good stead later on in life.
When we asked Joe what was the most challenging thing about growing up without much, he told us that Image was a real issue. Seeing that others had more and always wanting what others kids had was hard. Joe said “While others were going to school in cars, my Dad was walking miles to work and I was on the bus. I just felt people would perceive me and my family differently, so that was tough. I was upset that I didn’t have the latest gear all the time as I was just focused on what other people thought rather than counting the blessings that I had, which thankfully I later realised was a mistake.
We know that aside from those struggles, rugby played a real positive part in his upbringing, so we asked Joe to tell us all about that and how it all got started. Joe told us “I was a really active kid and we grew up in the Samoan church, where I first got involved in sport but not rugby. My Dad played rugby though, although I never saw him play as he had to quit to take care of me but it has always been a part of the family upbringing. My uncle was a coach and all my cousins were playing and I also used to love watching all the International tests on TV. Me and my cousin then played in my Uncle’s team, which was pretty cool and he used to drive us to all the practices as a teenager, so yeah, I had a pretty good start.”
Joe had started playing competitively at age six for the under nines, as that was the youngest age group available. In the under nines, kids would play barefoot but then at the age of 7, when the team moved up, with no other under 9 teams in the area and so no barefoot rugby, Joe had to quit playing as he couldn’t afford any boots. It wasn’t till a couple of years later that his Dad managed to save up and buy some from a local thrift (second hand) shop but even then they weren’t ideal and at one point he was only able to play a game, when a friend offered to lend him some boots. Unfortunately with them being two sizes too big, he would have been better off in the circus that day, than on a rugby pitch but Joe never let setbacks like that put him off, he was just happy to be able to play.
With that type of attitude, Joe was pretty successful as a teenager, he was selected for a few representative teams and after playing well for his club, he was spotted by scouts and offered a scholarship to one of the most prestigious rugby playing boarding schools in Queensland. It was while at school that things skyrocketed to the next level. He was selected to play for Queensland under 16s and the following year the under 17s before being selected to play for the Australian under 17’s. That same year, Joe signed an academy contract with Melbourne Storm and straight after school, went down for preseason and after just 2 months, was upgraded to a professional contract and was training with all the top pros.
You could be forgiven for thinking it should have been all plain sailing from there but it certainly wasn’t. Having such a meteoric rise at such a young age, had a negative impact on Joe and even though he knows he was really well prepared by his parents and his strict upbringing, he started to veer off track and recalled “I felt like I fell in love with myself and I felt like I’d done everything I had on my own. I felt like I didn’t owe anyone and that the only person I needed to be grateful to was myself. After starting at Melbourne I’d been blessed to have a daughter and as a result I moved clubs and signed for the Gold Coast Titans so I could be closer to her, which was a positive. My attitude to life though in other areas was not, I began putting on weight, as I wasn’t putting in the work and as a result I lost form. I just couldn’t get the game time I wanted and suddenly it felt like everything was falling apart. I remember thinking that it wasn’t just rugby that wasn’t working out but that something else was missing.
That’s when we came on to Joe’s faith as we asked where he felt God was in all this. Joe told us he was brought up in a Christian family and prayer and talking to God and involving him in every aspect of life was always a big thing. Joe recalled that when he was a young boy and struggling with being poor and his image and when things weren’t going right, he started to doubt God was really for him. He said “As I was growing up I was asking him for things and they weren’t coming and I think as I got a little older that made me lose faith but then as I got even older still and more so when I was struggling with rugby, I started to realise what God was doing and that the things I wanted were garbage.
I began to think what was the one thing that I had when I was a kid when I felt happy and content, no matter how things were going and I realised that it was God and that I’d turned my back on him. So I simply built that relationship again and was able to praise and worship like I used to and in those moments, I knew things were going to get better.”
Joe was quick to point out that his career didn’t get better immediately but that he felt content for the first time in ages and happy. Joe had another year at Gold Coast in Australia where things still weren’t going brilliantly and decided to go back to Rugby Union with the Brumbies. Immediately things improved and in his first season, he was selected and made his debut for Australia. After his first test match though, he suffered an ankle injury and was out for the rest of the season. It was a huge blow as Joe felt like his career was potentially over but recalled that despite that he was still happy. He was going to church and had a relationship with God, he had been playing the best rugby of his career, so despite the injury he still felt positive. The great thing was though, that eventually it would be all that positivity and his faith, that would see him rise back to the top and eventually move to Ireland to play at one of the greatest clubs in the world, where is he is to this day.
It’s a great story and when we asked Joe what he would want you guys to learn from it, he told us this. “I’ll always tell anyone, ‘Don’t ever count your problems just count your blessings’ I spent the whole of my childhood weighing up my problems and wanting stuff and when I eventually got everything I thought would solve all my problems, I realised how worthless it all was
And I want to say this, I’ve always believed there’s two Authors writing your story that’s you and God and the way your story can go, all depends on who’s the main writer. If it’s you, it may not turn out the way you wanted but if you let God lead, it’s always going to be beautiful. You have to have full Faith that God is in full control and just trust his purpose for you and work towards that. Find out what makes you tick inside and do everything you can to feed it, find a purpose for your life and constantly pursue that every day.
Joe is now looking forward to completing a successful season in Ireland then after that who knows all we can say is watch this space guys oh and welcome to the family Joe.