Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Who? Meet Kane Hames, All Blacks prop...

Kane Hames. Photo  / Getty Images
Kane Hames. Photo / Getty Images

Kane Hames is the rugby feel-good story of the year, going from having no contract in March to the All Blacks bench for Saturday night's match against the Wallabies.

It has been a miracle five months. Hames has pulled off the impossible not just by making it as far as he has, but by getting there in relative obscurity.

But Hames, who will make his debut at some stage in the second half in Sydney, has managed to keep himself something of a major secret.

He was schooled at Te Aute College in Hawke's Bay and left hopeful with a dream of one day being a professional player.

A powerful scrummager with a love of weightlifting, his big break didn't come until 2013 - winning a start with Bay of Plenty in the NPC. He did enough to then pique the interest of Maori coach Jamie Joseph.

Joseph also signed Hames to the Highlanders and the prop's power at the set-piece was noticed by the All Blacks.

They called Hames up as cover when they had an injury crisis at prop, but not one dramatic enough to see him make the match day 23.

But that turned out to be a peak for Hames as injury would then blight him for the next 18 months. He struggled with his knees, needed operations and after he picked up a five-week suspension for punching Dominic Bird in 2015, the Highlanders cooled on him.

They didn't re-sign him for 2016 and because he was still recovering from knee surgery, no other New Zealand team came calling either. He had overseas offers, but his heart was set on making it to the All Blacks.

But without a contract, he was getting close to having to give up on that and take a deal in France. That was until Pauliasi Manu suffered a season-ending injury in March, rupturing his Achilles in training.

The Chiefs, having already lost tighthead prop Nepo Laulala for the year, drafted Hames.

Performances for the Chiefs late in the season were again noticed by the All Blacks and with Joe Moody suffering from a neck injury, Hames was drafted in as cover for the Rugby Championship. He travelled to Sydney, and now his world has been turned upside down.

- NZ Herald

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