Tauranga's Kurt Heatherley is in the frame to make his AFL debut this weekend for reigning premiers Hawthorn.
After impressing for the Hawks during the pre-season NAB Challenge, Heatherley is being talked up by the club's football manager Chris Fagan as a selection chance in Saturday's first round match against the Brisbane Lions on Saturday.
"Kurt's right in the mix. There's a few training sessions to go, but his form has been really pleasing. He's probably exceeded our expectations to some degree," said Fagan.
"In the three NAB Challenge games he played he looked really comfortable. He has speed and he's athletic and he's a real competitor, so his belief in himself has really helped him improve."
A talented basketball player from Tauranga, Heatherley was signed by Hawthorn to an AFL international scholarship in 2009. Along with fellow New Zealander Shem Tatupu, Heatherley was elevated to the Hawthorn rookie last at the end of last year.
Both Heatherley and Tatupu have previously played for the senior New Zealand Hawks, and were part of the AFL New Zealand high performance programme. The Hawthorn Hawks also currently have Siope Ngata from Aorere College in Auckland signed to an international scholarship.
AFL New Zealand chief executive Robert Vanstam is pleased, but not surprised at Heatherley's rise.
"Kurt's story shows the tremendous opportunities available to New Zealanders through AFL. It's only a matter of time before we see him playing regular top level AFL."
Heatherley had to work hard for his opportunities with Hawthorn, after enduring injuries and operations for much of 2013.
The effort paid off for both Heatherley and the club particularly during Hawthorn's opening NAB Challenge match. Heatherley made a bold sidestep and disposal to set up an attacking move that led to a goal, and marked and spoiled solidly in the defensive line.
Hawthorn, the current AFL champions, won the NAB Challenge. Their squad depth and current form mark them out as contenders to win back to back premierships.