"I'm enjoying the football, as a group we had a slow start and now we realise how we're going to play to keep the season going": Timani. Photo: Getty Images
After a self-described "slow start" and a battle to improve his fitness, Test second-rower Sitaleki Timani is enjoying his rugby at the new look Waratahs.
He is back in the starting side and has his head around the different demands on the Waratahs back row. Less pick and go, more moving the ball wide. And a whole lot of running.
"I'm enjoying the football, as a group we had a slow start and now we realise how we're going to play to keep the season going," Timani said. "For me I think I've had a slow start but every game I think I'm getting better and better, trying to pick up our way of playing and how we play as a team."
But while the football is starting to click in NSW and the British and Irish Lions are skulking towards Australian shores, none of it will be enough to keep Timani from taking up a three-year deal with French club Montpellier later this year. That deal, it is understood, has been done for some time.
And while Timani himself is taking life "week by week" at the moment – a smart approach under a coach as demanding as Michael Cheika – Australian fans of the destructive second-rower should prepare to say their goodbyes.
It is understood there has been no agreement on when the ARU might release the towering Tongan but a departure following the Rugby Championship is on the cards. If Wallabies coach Robbie Deans decides he needs Timani a little longer, an October date could be pushed for to ensure his availability for the final Bledisloe Test. Either way Timani, 26, will join his brother Sione in France, where the elder sibling has signed with Agen.
In the meantime, Timani is hoping to get the most out of his body for NSW and get back to 80 minute performances. He played the full match against the Blues, a three-point victory for NSW, but dropped back to 57 minutes against the Force and played no more than 50 minutes in any of the preceding games. Timani also fell victim to the coach's axe, being named on the bench in round three before an injury ruled him out completely.
"I think it was the pre-season, because we came back late [into the] pre-season and it was hard to pick up the way we play," he said.
Like many of his forward pack team mates, Timani also discovered the same old routine would not fly under Cheika.
"We have to be fit," Timani said. "It's more running in games. I'm getting there, [the forwards] are enjoying that and especially since we're getting the ball out wide more, instead of pick and go. I prefer getting the ball a bit wider ... and the tight stuff as well."
Prop Sekope Kepu went through a similar transition. Fitness was less of an issue but the regular Wallabies starter was asked to produce more. He was also grappling with decisions about his playing future at the same time as his wife gave birth to their third child, Isaiah.
"I spoke with Cheika a few weeks ago and he wanted me to work on my strengths, to be dynamic out there and just impose myself," Kepu said after being named to start against the Hurricanes on Saturday.
"I guess as much as your body wants to do so many things, mentally you could say you were a little bit off."