'He'll always be a Maori. But New Zealand should have moved faster'
Once was a Kiwi now a Kangaroo ... James Tamou. Photo: Kate Geraghty
FOR two straight days, the calls were coming at all hours. At midnight, when James Tamou knew his mother would be awake. At 4am, when his father had risen to travel from the central coast to Sydney to work. Dave Tamou would text his son to let him know he was up, and the call would quickly follow.
''I wanted to go up there [to Townsville],'' Tamou's mother, Pippa, told the Herald yesterday. ''I was really worried about him. There were phone calls at all hours, day and night. 'Mum, I don't know what to do'.''
That was several weeks ago, as Tamou was pondering the decision that would lead to him being selected for Australia, to face his birth country New Zealand, this Friday night in Auckland.
She described the decision as ''agonising''. ''He's always wanted to play for the Kiwis, even when he was a little lad over back in New Zealand,'' Pippa said. ''But it got serious this year when [NSW coach] Ricky Stuart rang him.''
Now living on the central coast, Tamou's parents remain proud New Zealanders but they are also grateful for what Australia has given their family - including the latest development for their son.
''He hasn't turned his back,'' Pippa said. ''He's always going to be a Maori and he's always going to be a New Zealander. But New Zealand should have moved faster. It was a career decision and he's happy with it. He hadn't heard anything from the Kiwis [when Stuart called this year]. He had to make a decision.''
As for his credentials; he moved to Australia when he was 13, as the family sought better opportunities. He played junior league for Paddington Tigers and attended high school at Matraville Sports High School, where he was head boy in his final year. He was star-struck when Mark Minichiello visited his school; ditto when he spotted Sydney Roosters players near his home at Coogee. ''He would just gaze at them,'' his mum said.
Next he was on contract at the Roosters, where the late Arthur Beetson took him under his wing. Which means in recent years at least, his story has been a typical one for league in Australia.
Except that he is now playing league for Australia. He has always been a significant talent, and he has always been a sizeable person; when he was young, his parents had to take his birth certificate to matches on the weekend to prove he was not older. But now he is truly with the big boys.
All those late night phone calls were worth it on Sunday, when James phoned them to confirm he had been selected. Dave had been typing his son's name into Google, to search for news on the selection. The next thing, the phone rang, and their son was officially an Australian representative.
''We just went quiet for about 10 minutes, we went into shock,'' Pippa said. ''We didn't know what to say to him, my husband, my son [Zinzan] and I. We were just smiling to each other. He was saying, 'Mum, mum, are you there?'
''Apparently he got a bit of a shock when he was told. I think he sat in his room for a couple of hours afterwards. He was just blown away to be picked so quickly.''
The reaction was swift. Pippa was sent lyrics of the Australian national anthem, by cheeky friends and relatives. They have also noted the negative reaction, but Pippa believes James will handle the pressure.
''James, he's a very humble boy,'' she said. ''He doesn't really say a bad word about anybody. On Facebook, a lot's been going on [about his decision], but James doesn't dwell on things like that. I said to him, 'You could go play for China, I don't care'. As long as he's happy.''
Now, she is planning to travel to Auckland, with James's brother Richie, to watch the game. She is even considering buying an Australian jersey. She doesn't look at it like she is turning her back on New Zealand. ''I look at it like I'm supporting James,'' she said. ''He's my son.''