Hard-hitting Warriors rookie Jazz Tevaga is eager to reacquaint himself with Canberra Raiders forward and former under 20s sparring partner Joseph Tapine in tonight's NRL match in New Plymouth.
Tevaga has impressed with his enthusiasm and rugged defence while fulfilling a dual role between hooker and back-row for the Warriors in five first grade outings this season.
The 20-year-old has shown a confidence in taking on much bigger opposition forwards, adding a touch of mongrel and durability to the Warriors pack with first-choice No9 Issac Luke starting off the bench and Simon Mannering missing two matches with a facial injury.
But with that pair returning to the starting line-up for the Yarrow Stadium clash, he accepts he will play a reduced role off the bench against Canberra, but is looking forward to a torrid forward battle and the chance to resume an old rivalry with Tapine.
"I actually punched him a few years ago in an under 20s game so I'm looking forward to see what he's going to do," joked Tevaga.
"He's a good player and I can't wait to play against him.
"They do have a lot of big forwards and we've just got to do our best as we usually do in the middle and stop their go-forward."
In three starting appearances since debuting against Melbourne Storm in round three, Tevaga set about making his presence felt, averaging 65 minutes and 41 tackles.
His combative and no-frills approach to football has been welcomed by his teammates, with former captain Mannering an admirer of his fearless and direct style.
"Jazz has been really good for us starting at hooker and doing a job, but then pretty much playing the whole game through the middle there," said Mannering.
"He's a guy that works really hard and is very physical for the size he is."
Despite earning plenty of raps for his whole-hearted performances, Tevaga believes there are deficiencies in his defensive technique and is the first to admit he needs to demonstrate more with the ball in hand.
"I can tidy a few things up on my defence," he said. "Because I'm a little guy all the big guys like running at me and sometimes they tend to get a fast play the ball on me.
"I also need to work on my running and take a few leaves out of Bully's (Luke) book."
While still relishing his rise to top flight football, Tevaga admits he is learning to cope with the pressures and excitement that comes with playing in the NRL.
It was a different story less than two months ago, when he admitted to having been so nervous that he hardly slept or ate in the lead-up to his debut.
"Now that I've got a few games under my belt I can prepare a bit better mentally and I just do what I usually do before every game.
"Just playing NRL is a dream come true, every opportunity I get to go out there I'm just going to give it my all to try and hold a spot in the team."