Former NRL stars chase golden prize
Joe Tomane will battle fellow former NRL star Cooper Vuna tomorrow night, with a spot on the Wallabies' wing at stake. Photo: Colleen Petch
NRL converts Cooper Vuna and Joe Tomane will face off in Super Rugby action tomorrow night in what shapes as a Wallabies wing-spot duel for Tuesday's Test against Scotland.
Melbourne flyer Vuna and Brumbies revelation Tomane practised together with the Wallabies train-on squad yesterday, but in a mouth-watering match-up, they'll go head-to-head at AAMI Park with a gold jersey potentially on the line.
Although Queenslander Dom Shipperley is also in the frame to partner Digby Ioane on the wing at Hunter Stadium, Vuna and Tomane get one final chance to convince Robbie Deans they're ready to become the latest in a long line of league converts to play out wide for the Wallabies.
Tomane, a former Australian Schools representative, has lost none of his rugby instincts in a stellar debut season for the Brumbies in 2012.
''It's real surreal. It still hasn't really sunk in even though I've done a lot of training with the squad, it still feels like I'm not here,'' said Tomane.
''My thoughts were maybe I might have a crack at the Wallabies in the next three or four years … I didn't expect it to happen so fast, it's just an awesome experience. If I get that opportunity hopefully I'll hold onto it.''
A crowd pleaser in NRL-mad Newcastle during his stint with the Knights, Vuna said he was approaching tomorrow's match as a Test selection trial, and he won't be leaving anything in reserve when he clashes with Tomane.
''It's pretty much a showcase I guess … if we do clash I won't hold back on anything,'' said Vuna, who admits to not knowing all the Wallabies players' names yet.
''It's going to be tough out there, there are players right across the park that are all fighting for a spot in that Scotland game [halfbacks Nick Phipps and Nic White will also match up].
''It's pretty much trying to find my form and back myself into making that squad.''
The pair have only ever played against each other once and that was in an NRL match in 2010 when Tomane's Gold Coast Titans beat Vuna's Knights 38-36 in a thriller fittingly played at Tuesday's Test venue, Hunter Stadium in Newcastle.
On that day both players stepped up to the mark and scored a try.
Andrew Walker, Wendell Sailor, Mat Rogers, Lote Tuqiri and Ryan Cross were all high-profile NRL converts who made a name for themselves in the outside backs for the Wallabies in the 2000s.
And while Vuna and Tomane haven't come across with the same fanfare as their predecessors, they've been heavily influenced by two big names who made the switch a decade ago.
Vuna, 24, says he was instructed as a youngster to model his game on giant winger Sailor, while fellow dual international Rogers has been a mentor for 22-year-old Tomane since they played together at the Titans.