Keaon Koloamatangi: From working as a plumber to representing Tonga in three years

Keaon Koloamatangi Tonga SWpix
Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix

Keaon Koloamatangi was working as a plumber and playing reserve grade rugby three years ago, and is now one of Tonga’s rising rugby league stars.

The 24-year-old has made more than 60 appearances for the Rabbitohs since making his first grade debut in 2020.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing for Koloamatangi. He had to work hard for his chance in the NRL, combining reserve duties with working full-time as a plumber in his late teens.

Koloamatangi’s biggest dream came true in 2022: playing for Tonga.

He made his international debut in a mid-season defeat to New Zealand at Mt Smart Stadium, three years after he watched Tonga in action against his birth nation Australia at the same ground.

Recalling his debut on the Bloke In A Bar Podcast, Koloamatangi said: “I’m close with (Siliva) Havili and he has got a good relationship with the coach (Kristian Woolf).

“He (Woolf) was trying to organise a game with New Zealand in June. I was like ‘I want to play that’. There a heaps of Tongans in New Zealand and I knew the crowd would be crazy. I was in the crowd a few years ago so I knew it would be crazy playing in front of it.

“My goal all year was to play for Tonga”

“When he called me and said I would be playing – I didn’t want to tell my dad straight away because I probably would have started crying. But I told him and it was crazy.

“I remember when I sung the national anthem I was looking at where I was sitting (a few years ago). I told myself I didn’t want to be that player who cries on TV so I was trying my hardest not to but it’s one of those moments when you are singing the national anthem and looking at where you are sitting a couple of years ago, you think everything has paid off and that dreams do come true. It’s crazy how life works.

“I was a plumber back then playing reserve grade for the Bunnies and three years later I’m playing for Tonga.

“And I remember thinking about my family and culture and having that dream as a little kid. I just tried to enjoy the moment, look at the crowd and it was just crazy. I’ll never forget it.”

Tonga come first

The 6ft 3in forward was born and raised in Australia and is of Tongan heritage through his father’s side of the family.

Koloamatangi always had his heart set on pulling on the red jersey of Tonga.

“My biggest dream was to play for Tonga,” he said.

“My dad is Tongan and he is a big part of why I play and make him proud. I always said to myself that if I was able to get the Australia and Tonga jumper at the same time, then I would pick Tonga first.

“Even though I didn’t get picked for Australia, I always had it in my mind that I would pick Tonga first.

“The coach (Woolf) rang me at the start of last year just to get my thoughts on it. I was in the Origin camp last year and that’s sort of a pathway to play for Australia. He just wanted to know where I stood. He understood if I wanted to pick Australia but I said my heart was set on Tonga.

“It is my biggest dream to represent my family and culture. Any time that I’m able to put on the Tongan jersey I’ll do it.”

Keaon Koloamatangi on World Cup experience

The Rabbitohs ace was selected by Tonga coach Kristian Woolf for the World Cup last year. He played in all four of Tonga’s World Cup matches.

Tonga fell short to Pacific neighbours Samoa in the quarter-finals.

“The camp was mad, it was one of the best experiences of my life,” he said on the Bloke In A Bar Podcast.

“You can probably imagine if you have a bunch of islanders in a team it would be pretty much laughing the whole time. Training is a different vibe, it was just a mad time.

“We didn’t play to how we wanted to play, but you live and you learn. I know all of us have a fire in our bellies to make things right.

“When we first started the camp we talked about having the team to do it. Tonga beating Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain in 2019 – they only got better and the young boys only got more experienced – but that’s how footy goes.

“The best team wins on any day, no matter how good you are on paper. It was a great experience, that was my first game against Samoa and it was something I’ll never forget.

“I wish the World Cup was in New Zealand or Australia just to experience the fanbase but over there it was crazy, having Tongans in England.”

Why the wait goes on for the international calendar

Keaon Koloamatangi Tonga SWpix
Photo: Allan McKenzie/www.photosport.nz/SWpix

The international rugby league calendar remains unconfirmed as the governing body awaits the outcome of talks Down Under.

Having previously promised an announcement mid-year in 2022, and then by the end of December, there is still no sign of the long-awaited international rugby league calendar being announced.

More than a month has now passed since the end of the 2021 World Cup, which had been postponed for a year, but the majority of participating nations still don’t know when their next game might be.

England and France have announced a double-header in April, while the European Championships will go ahead at the end of the year.

But the key to the international calendar being confirmed is around the southern hemisphere nations.

So far, they have been unable to confirm their arrangements due to the ongoing dispute between the NRL and its players.

READ NEXT: A player from each of the 51 rugby league playing nations

About Drew Darbyshire 8621 Articles
Love Rugby League Deputy Editor. Joined the site ahead of the 2017 World Cup and been a full-time reporter since 2018.

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