There are only a handful of players who make it to the ITM Cup at the tender age of 18 and Te Puke's Elijah Nicolas is destined to join the elite group with the Bay of Plenty Steamers.
The burly midfielder, who weighs in at 97kg, has been selected after impressing head coach Kevin Schuler and training staff all winter and is regarded as a young player of rare talent and maturity.
What is even more remarkable is Nicolas has been selected from the second-tier Baywide Division One competition, which his Rangiuru club won to gain promotion to the Premier grade next season.
He says it was a surprise to get called up this year but he knows he is ready to take the step.
"I think I have put the hard work in week in and week out, and when they told me I was nearly there I just got stuck in and worked on a few things and got the end result I wanted," he said.
"I have been training nearly all year since I got called into the Bay Academy and from there transferred into the Steamers side of things.
"It is a real big step for me, especially coming from Division One with Rangiuru. It is not as easy now as running around or bowling over anyone you want in club games. It is way more tactical and you have to use the top six inches a lot more but it is good for me and is helping me grow into my rugby career.
"Blue and gold is in the blood and it has always been a big goal of mine since I was a little kid to play for the Steamers. I never thought I would make it but after putting all that hard work in here I am."
Because of his age, the NZRU has strict guidelines on how many games Nicolas can play, which is a process still being worked through.
Nicolas says he is not worrying about that and is focussing as if he is available to play every game.
"I don't really know how many games I can play but I am just training to try and be a starting player every game we have. That is pretty much my goal to be up there every time I get a chance."
With Nicolas' solid build and flair for attacking rugby, it is no surprise to know his favourite player is All Black and Northland centre Rene Ranger. It could be an explosive meeting if they get to mark each other when the Steamers play the Taniwha in Whangarei on October 9.
"I really admire Rene Ranger and the style of game he plays. He is a good ball runner and I rate myself quite a strong ball runner but I need to work on setting up my outsides better. I really look up to Rene and his style and I watch him a lot."
If the Steamers can get Ranger-like performances from Nicolas in the years to come he will prove to be a huge asset.