League is in Tyrel Lomax’s blood, but a cheeky Australian helped him on his way to becoming an All Black.
Lamax’s father, John, played 16 tests for the Kiwis and 112 games in the NRL. His uncle, David, was capped twice and played professionally in Australia and Great Britain. John, David, Tony and Arnold were also key figures in the Wainuiomata team that won the national Lion Red Cup in 1990 and were part of successful Wellington teams.
It’s not that rugby was a dirty word in the Lomax households, it just wasn’t discussed.
But when John and Kaaren moved back to Canberra to help Tyrel’s older brother Sheen’s burgeoning league career, Tyrel initially stayed with good family friend Ken Laban.
“I was coaching him in the Wainuiomata under 13s and when it came time for him to re-join the family in Canberra I asked (Australian rugby commentator) Greg Clarke to recommend a school.”
Clarke told Laban that Lomax should attend St Edmond’s in Canberra, so he did.
“What Clarkey didn’t say was that St Edmonds is a proud rugby school,” recalls Laban, who played alongside the Lomax brothers in those Wainuiomata teams.
The school’s rugby alumni includes the four Fainga’a brothers, Matt Giteau and Hall of Famer George Gregan.
For a while Lomax played union and league while at school but as most of his mates were rugby boys, the 15-a-side game eventually took over.
“The Kiwis were my dream till I was about 16 but in my last year at school I started paying more attention to rugby. St Edmonds is a rugby school and all of my mates were playing rugby.
“I went through school with Jordan Jackson-Hope and was in the under 20s with Connal McInerney (who both play for the Brumbies) and I was having too much fun with them.”
Lomax had two years in the Australia under 20s in 2015 and 2016, and played for the Melbourne Rebels in Super Rugby in 2017. That year he was also invited to a Wallabies camp.
“It was an induction camp and we sat for headshots and I wore the Wallaby jersey. It all felt a bit weird.”
That’s because, despite being born in Canberra where his father played 65 NRL games for the Raiders, Lomax is a Wainuiomata boy at heart and a Kiwi to the core.
“It’s just home for me, New Zealand.”
So he returned home in 2017, signing with Tasman and playing for the Highlanders in 2018 and 2019, before shifting to the Hurricanes in 2020.
Lomax made his All Blacks debut against Japan in Tokyo in 2018, a 31 minute cameo that, when he was presented with his cap after the match, he credited to former All Blacks and Crusaders prop Wyatt Crockett, who was now a teammate at Tasman.
“In his speech when he got his cap, Tyrel said he wouldn’t be where he was that day if not for Wyatt,” Laban said.
It’s a comment Crockett says is typical of Lomax, who he describes as humble and hard working.
But that humility was holding Lomax back too. “He didn’t really back himself,” Crockett says. “I played against him when he was at the Rebels and was surprised, for a 20 year-old, how good he was.
“I thought I’d keep an eye on him and I do remember thinking I’d play against him a lot more.”
Except, they didn’t really because Lomax moved to New Zealand and joined Crockett at Tasman where they made a formidable - and tall - front row.
It was there that Crockett worked on convincing the young tighthead prop to make scrummaging a lot more personal - and to back his ability to dominate his loosehead.
“You could see he had the physical attributes but he had to be more dominant and to do that you really have to back yourself and you have to make it really personal, because it is personal when you’re trying to physically and mentally dominate the other person.”
And so we come to a game when Tasman played Canterbury and All Blacks stalwart Joe Moody was in the Canterbury front row.
“I thought Tyrel dominated Joe that day, and that doesn’t happen very often. I thought then that he was good enough to play international rugby and he now has the opportunity to go on and be one of the best tightheads in the world.”
Clarke Dermody was another who watched Lomax with interest in his first Super Rugby Season, with the Rebels.
“For a young fella he was doing an awesome job. It was tough for him but you could see he had a bit in him. He was getting a hiding every week but he kept coming back for more.”
Dermody helped convince Lomax to move home and join the Highlanders and has been impressed by his growth as a scrummager.
“For a tighthead, that’s the most important thing, though with his mobility there is a lot of upside in that part of his game too. He bowls a heavy ball,” Dermody says of the 127kg, 192cm tall 25-year-old who has deft skills to go with his power.
“He has all the attributes and everything in front of him, it’s just a matter of how much he wants it.”
Lomax is all too aware that his future is in his own hands. “A lot of kids want to play for the All Blacks and to achieve that goal is pretty special, but that’s just the start.
“I want a good Super Rugby year with the Hurricanes and to get picked for the All Blacks again.”
But it doesn’t end there. Having played 11 of his 14 tests off the bench, Lomax is clear on one other goal.
“I want more game time and I want to be a starter.”