He lowered the colours of Kurtley Beale as a teenager and was racing towards a Test debut two years later, but Matt Toomua has finally arrived after overcoming a long and rocky road.
Toomua was a shining light in the Wallabies’ painful 20-13 loss to England and is set to start his ninth Test, against Italy this weekend after usurping close mate Christian Leali’ifano at inside centre.
The Brumbies five-eighth’s seemingly meteoric 2013 rise is testament to hard work and a steely focus after his first taste of national honours ended disastrously four years ago.
The rugged Toomua lasted only 110 seconds in his uncapped midweek Wallabies debut, breaking his jaw in a tackle gone wrong against Cardiff Blues on the 2009 Spring Tour.
“I got a little bit over excited,” the 23-year-old told AAP.
“I rushed out of the line.
“It may sound stupid but I didn’t keep that jersey. I always said to myself I would get a real one.
“A sign of arrogance or over-confidence? I don’t know, but I’m pretty happy I gambled and got another one.”
While Toomua made his debut against the All Blacks at five-eighth in August before losing the No.10 jersey, he has taken his chance at No.12 with both hands and worked well beside Quade Cooper.
His rib-rattling defence, hard ball-running – shown by his powerful try against England – and booming right boot make him a good foil for Cooper.
The pair were Brisbane schoolboy rivals and Toomua actually led Queensland II to the 2006 Australian Schoolboys title when the new Wallabies vice-captain was the Queensland I playmaker.
Toomua played opposite Beale in the semi-final and orchestrated a huge upset over NSW I and then went on to beat NSW II in the final.
It was Matt Giteau’s return to Canberra from the Western Force in 2010, then a series of injuries, which hamstrung Toomua, who has spent the past three years struggling for any Super Rugby game time.
“I guess I’m here eventually,” he told AAP.
“It means more in the end.
“To actually have a good four years of slugging it out and then getting another crack.
“It’s probably what drives you off field. Because you know what it’s like to watch other guys do it.”