If not for his well-publicised and controversial change of heart, James Tamou would probably have been donning the black and white of his native New Zealand in Saturday’s World Cup final.
But more than 18 months on from his defection to the green and gold, the big front-rower is convinced he made the right decision as he prepares to help Australia to rugby league’s ultimate prize.
The 26-year-old North Queensland enforcer caused a stir when he switched his allegiances to Australia just 10 days out from last year’s Anzac Test – a precursor to his State of Origin debut for NSW.
Tamou, who was born in Palmerston North and represented the Junior Kiwis in 2007, admits at times he struggled to handle the backlash from the move, which included being dubbed ‘Turncoat Tamou’ by some.
But he has no regrets and says there won’t be mixed emotions when he faces the Kiwis in the biggest game of his career at Old Trafford.
“It was a tough period of time for me but, when I look back at it now, it was an easy decision,” Tamou told AAP.
“Being able to play for the NSW Blues and Australia, there’s no regrets at all.
“I’m just going to take it (the final) as a normal Test match and I’ve had three of them now against New Zealand.
“As tough as it’s going to be, I’m not going to think too much about it eligibility-wise. I’m just going to go out there and play for my team and my country.”
Tamou revealed he initially rejected the advances of then-Blues coach Ricky Stuart in 2011 “because I thought, ‘no, I’m a Kiwi’,” but he changed his mind after making the New Zealand Four Nations train-on squad but missing the final cut.
“That was really disheartening,” Tamou said.
“He (Stuart) rang me up again in 2012 and gave me a few days to think about it and I thought ‘this is really it – this could be one of the best or worst things that could ever happen to me’.
“As history shows, I said yes and we come to today and I couldn’t be happier.”
Tamou has been a key part of the Kangaroos’ impressive march to the final, scoring a try in Saturday’s 64-0 semi-final rout of Fiji.
The towering forward followed his four-pointer with a ‘rocking-the-cradle’ celebration in honour of his 11-month-old son Brooklyn Knox, who arrived in the UK on Thursday along with his partner Brittney.
“Obviously, when we first come over here, we’re having a good time and preparing for games but, after a few weeks, it starts to get tough and you start to miss them,” Tamou said.
“It’s been really good to see them over here.”