Jesse Bromwich has taken an unlikely route to become Kiwis captain.
The 27-year-old, last week confirmed as the long-term skipper for the David Kidwell era, was a late bloomer.
So late, in fact, that for a time it looked like the only team he might lead was the construction gang in rural New South Wales where he worked as a scaffolder after moving to Australia in 2008.
It's hard to imagine now, but Bromwich slipped through the cracks as a teenage league player. These days, every promising Auckland junior (rugby or league) is snapped up by 16 or 17 (often earlier), signed to an agent or club and brought into the development system.
Bromwich played for the Manurewa Marlins and made junior representative teams but failed to attract the attention of any NRL clubs so took an offer of work and club football in country NSW.
"When I got to 19 and I hadn't been signed, I didn't know if it was ever going to happen," Bromwich said.
He headed to Orange, a small city 250km west of Sydney - home town of James Maloney, Daniel Mortimer and legendary Australian poet Banjo Paterson, who penned The Man From Snowy River.
Bromwich played for the Orange Hawks against the likes of the Mudgee Dragons, Lithgow Workies and the Blayney Bears in Group 10 of NSW Country rugby league. He worked Monday to Friday on building sites. then turned out for the Hawks on the weekends. The climate was good, the people welcoming and the footy enjoyable - but something was missing.
"At the time, I was drifting a little bit," he said. "I wasn't really sure about where I was going."
Cue Sliding Doors-style fate. Bromwich visited younger brother Kenny in Melbourne, who encouraged him along to a Storm under-20s training.
Jesse was signed almost immediately, played in the 2009 NYC grand final-winning side and was named in the Toyota Cup Team of the Year.
It's been a steep upward trajectory since. Bromwich became a regular first grader in 2011, has appeared in two grand finals and was the cornerstone of the Kiwis' 2014 Four Nations triumph. He is established as one of the game's premier props, although captaincy wasn't always on the radar.
"I was usually the guy at the back of the room in team meetings," Bromwich says. "Now I have to speak up a bit more. I like to lead with my actions more than my words but it is something I am becoming more comfortable with."
Bromwich is still nursing the emotional scars of last Sunday's narrow grand final loss to the Sharks, a game in the balance right up to the final whistle.
"I was heartbroken," he says. "It's shattering. We worked so hard this year, played well every week, got to the grand final and feel like we under-achieved.
"We set such high standards at Melbourne so everyone was hurting after the game. It is going to be a long pre-season, I'll tell you that."
The only silver lining was turning out alongside Kenny, as the boys from South Auckland became the 14th set of siblings to play in the NRL's biggest game.
"It was an absolute dream come true," Jesse says.
"To play with my little brother on the big stage is something special. I can't explain it.
"We were in Manurewa running around in the backyard with kids from all around the neighbourhood, and [on Sunday] night, we played at ANZ Stadium in front of 80,000 people. Kenny [also] presented me with my grand final jumper and that was something special."
Bromwich, who played 27 NRL games this year, averaging 60 minutes, 26 tackles and more than 140 running metres per match, admits to being physically jaded, but says there was never any question of missing this Kiwis campaign.
"Any time you get to pull on that black jumper should be one of the proudest moments of your career," he says.
"I will never turn it down. Never. I might be tired but it's the black jumper, mate. What do you expect me to do? I've dreamed of it as a kid and I would never miss a chance."
And getting back into action so soon could be a blessing.
"[In terms of the] Kiwis, the grand final loss gets the fires burning even more," Bromwich says.
"I'm lucky that I get to go out and correct things. Some of the boys have to sit on this for the next six months.
"It's going to be a long wait. For me, I get to move on straight away and hopefully do something special for the Kiwis."