Few people may know James O'Connor as well as Joe Tomane. The rookie Wallabies tourist may know the banished back better than O'Connor knows himself.
Long before he entered the weird world of professional sport, with its big profile, big bucks and big federal police agents escorting him from airports, O'Connor was a fiercely single-minded schoolboy at St Joseph's Nudgee College in Brisbane, where Tomane completed his senior year. The pair became buddies as they shared a common goal.
''We formed a bond because we used to sneak out just to do workouts together,'' said Tomane, the New Zealand-born former NRL player who joined the Brumbies in 2011, made his Wallabies debut last year and was selected to tour South Africa and Argentina for the next fortnight.
''He was really determined to be a professional athlete as a career path straight after school. That's how I know he's determined and loves doing what he's doing. But he's human as well, he's made mistakes and hopefully he'll sort out his stuff.'' The pair went separate ways when Tomane joined the Melbourne Storm and later the Gold Coast Titans.
''But we remained pretty close and when we got in touch everything just seemed like it was normal,'' he said. ''It just felt like we were at high school again.''
But they aren't. And childish behaviour appears to have cost O'Connor dearly. As a friend of eight years, Tomane said he was ''real sad about what happened'' to his mate. He had unsuccessfully tried to contact him. ''I think he's just trying to stay low-key and do things the right way,'' he said.
Tomane's concern for O'Connor seems genuine. But, in professional sport, one schoolmate's loss can be the other one's gain.
''It is a bit of an opportunity for me to cement a spot in the Wallabies side,'' he said. ''If I am picked, I really just want to do the best I can for the team, do the best I can for my country and hopefully make everyone proud. I'm not only representing myself and my family, I've got an opportunity to represent my country and I've got to make the most of that.
''It's always been my dream. I've always wanted to wear the green and gold. I have the chance to say that I'm Australian and really that's what I'm focusing on, like everyone else in the squad.'' When asked to describe the journey to the point of touring with the Wallabies, he said: ''One word: blessed. I mean, two years ago I was playing Queensland Cup and I couldn't even get a start for the NRL team that I was with. I was out of form, I was out of shape. God's really blessed me with an opportunity. Who would have thought two years ago that I'd be wearing the green and gold or even had the opportunity to wear it? It's a real blessing and I hope I can use it and make people proud.''
Tomane said he was concentrating on training well and adding whatever he could to the squad.