SYDNEY, Australia – Aaron Kleier’s left knee began to wobble and buckle on Monday morning and the No. 1 bull rider in PBR Australia began to flap his arms desperately to regain his one-legged balance during a Body Balance workout at Sportsworld Fitness in Cairns, Australia.
Team Australia head coach and 1998 World Champion Troy Dunn put his hand on his own knee and let out a small chuckle.
“This really isn’t Aaron’s thing,” Dunn said. “He is your typical tough central Queensland cattleman’s son.”
Kleier’s balance during a yoga class may need some work, but his balance on the back of a 1,500-pound bucking bull has been much more impressive.
The Claremont, Queensland, cowboy is 32-for-54 (59.26 percent) in the 2018 PBR Australia campaign with five victories and 15 Top-5 finishes.
Kleier went 1-for-2 at the Cairns Invitational last weekend in his first competition since tearing his right groin at the Dirt N Dust Festival PBR in Julia Creek, Queensland, on April 14.
“I got on three practice bulls (the week before Cairns) and rode them pretty good,” Kleier said. “I felt pretty good. I got massages and did stretches and stuff.”
The 20-year-old is amidst his first full season in PBR Australia after nearly winning the 2017 PBR Australia title despite missing the first half of the season.
Kleier is 51-for-86 (59.3 percent) all time in PBR Australia events, and last year he surprisingly turned down an opportunity to compete at the PBR World Finals when he was No. 34 in the world standings.
“I look at him and I am just amazed,” Dunn said. “Just watching him sometimes, it is just crazy. He is so relaxed. He has such a relaxed mind. He gets them rode one after another.”
With home field advantage on his side, Kleier – as long as he is fully healthy – will be a force to be reckoned with at the Sydney Global Cup on Saturday and Sunday night at Qudos Bank Arena.
Fans can catch all of the action from Sydney exclusively on RidePass beginning at 5:30 a.m. ET on June 9.
Kleier could have as good a chance as any of the top contenders from the PBR’s premier series to take home the individual aggregate championship, and he will certainly be an important factor if Team Australia is going to defend its home soil against Team Brazil, Team Canada, Team Mexico and Team USA.
Still, it has been eight months since Kleier admitted at the inaugural Edmonton Global Cup that he was willing to turn down the World Finals spot because he knew he wasn’t ready for the challenge that awaits him in the United States on the PBR’s 25th PBR: Unleash The Beast level.
Some were surprised that Kleier made that decision, and others are still surprised that Kleier has yet to make the journey to the United States.
“I haven’t thought about it yet,” Kleier said. “I suppose it will come when it happens. You set goals. When you reach those goals, then you set new goals. Then you go after that.”
And the current goal?
“Win the Australian title.”
Dunn is okay with Kleier sticking to his development process and not rushing over to the United States.
In fact, Dunn waited until he was 23 years old to come to North America and ride bulls.
Dunn made sure to first win the biggest title at the time in Australia – the 1989 Australian Pro Rodeo Association all-around championship and bull riding title – before packing his bags for Canada and the United States.
He later went on to qualify for his first PBR World Finals during the organization’s inaugural season (1994).
“That is a good idea,” Dunn said. “I would have been 23 before I went to the States. I won the all-around and the bull riding, and the year before I was runner-up and won the Finals. When I got over there it was another step up and the competition is better. So it was a bit of a building bock. I think that is a good idea. I had pretty good experience on good bulls here before I went away. That is what Aaron is doing.”
Dunn sees some similarities between himself and Kleier.
Both are Queensland cowboys that are from out in the country about four hours apart. Early mornings and late nights on the ranch were the norm for the pair.
“I know where he is from,” Dunn said. “I grew up there myself. I grew up in the area where he is from. It is the Outback. It is tough ole cattle country.”
Kleier’s hometown of Claremont is an agricultural community of roughly 3,000 people in Central Queensland.
Aaron’s father, Fred, used to ride bulls some with Dunn in Australia and he now hauls bulls to PBR Australia events, including the upcoming Global Cup.
“I suppose Aaron is young and still has a lot ahead of him,” Fred, who also competed in the U.S. briefly, said. “Sometimes you can move up too quick. You just are not up to the level yet. The bulls in the state are a good level. He is just getting more focused and achieving what he is doing.
“He can step up to that level. Just give him that much more time. If he can win the PBR Australia title, I reckon his next goal would be to go over there and win something. He just wants to win the one here first.”
Fred still laughs about the first time he put his son on a pony. Aaron was 8 years old at the time.
“He rode a pony and he fell off and he laid on the ground and pulled at his head,” Fred recalled. “I thought he wouldn’t do it again. Then he was like, ‘Ah, it wasn’t that bad.”
Kleier – a country boy with shaggy blonde hair – is now embattled in a thick PBR Australia title race with Fraser Babbington, Cliff Richardson and Cody Heffernan.
“I am just going to keep riding my bulls,” Kleier said. “I suppose if you get a title, you will make quite a few rides. It will come.”
Fred isn’t surprised to see his son making a push so quickly for the Australian title.
Aaron has been fiercely dedicated to his craft, and the second-year pro has always hated bucking off.
“When he was starting to ride in the PBR, if he would buck off he would come home and tell me to run the bulls in when I get home,” Fred recalled. “The next afternoon he was like, ‘let’s get back to the drawing board and get in the practice pen. I have to correct everything and start again.’
“It is all dedication. That is what it boils down.”
A PBR Australia title and a future in the United States is all on the back burner now with this weekend’s Global Cup event becoming front and center.
Kleier is excited for the event to be on his country’s turf after he went 1-for-2 during his first action against North American bulls in Edmonton.
Frankly, it was a learning experience for him.
“It was good to go out there and see them bulls,” Kleier said. “Not really (tough) I suppose. It is all the same.
“This weekend is another good opportunity. This will be great.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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