Bay of Plenty playmaker Kaleb Trask has come a long way since his first memory playing rugby - barefoot, on a cold Rotorua field, barely playing the game at all. Fast forward to today and he's just signed his first full-time Super Rugby contract with the Chiefs - a highlight in his career to date. Kristin Macfarlane reports.
Ask Kaleb Trask what Super Rugby franchise he has always wanted to play for and the answer is a clear, Chiefs.
It's the region where he grew up, the region he has come up through age-group rugby teams in and it's an organisation that has supported him and helped him develop as a player.
This week, it was announced Trask had been made the Gallagher Chiefs squad for 2020, named as one of four first five-eighths along with a returning Aaron Cruden, Tiaan Falcon and Damian McKenzie.
It's his first full-time Super Rugby contract, a milestone Trask rates as one of his biggest career highlights to date.
"Right from the start, they've looked after me. They've had me over there for training days and stuff like that, helped me improve, watched, keep track of my improvements and just been a real good help and obviously, it's my home region and I've always wanted to play for the Chiefs," Trask says.
"Especially growing up in Rotorua and Bay of Plenty, obviously Chiefs region, and then going through all the age group teams with the Chiefs as well," he says.
"I had talks with the Chiefs about this kind of stuff but yeah it was a huge surprise. I didn't think when they came up and talked to me, I didn't think they were talking to me about, you know, a Super Rugby contract I just thought they wanted to chat. I was real stoked about it."
Even more appealing is he's joining some of his Bay of Plenty Steamers teammates in the squad. Steamers captain Aidan Ross is back for another season, also joined by fellow Bay of Plenty players Mitch Karpik, Nathan Harris, Sam Cane and Tyler Ardron, who left New Zealand after the Steamers' 2018 season to return to Canada to be part of their Rugby World Cup campaign.
"I think it's wicked, I've got a lot of mates, familiar faces with the likes of Mitch Karpik and Aidan Ross, a few others in the Bay as well, which is good and I know most of the players in the team now. It's a good bunch of guys."
Going into a team with plenty of experienced players, Trask says one of his biggest work-ons for the 2020 season will be having confidence in himself.
And by the time he relocates to Hamilton at the end of this month, he'll be able to give 100 per cent after a 2019 Steamers season plagued by injuries.
"I had some bad luck this year. I pulled my hamstring just before the season started and then I finally got that right and then about seven games in I broke my jaw ... but I should be back fully as a player in a couple of weeks.
All of his movements have been prompted by rugby opportunities.
Growing up in Rotorua, Trask played for Kahukura Rugby Sports Club before moving to Rotorua Boys' High School when he reached secondary school. In 2017 he moved to Tauranga to pursue further rugby opportunities, working his way through the Bay of Plenty rugby pathway and playing for Tauranga Sports.
The following year he was named in the Bay of Plenty Steamers squad, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Bruce Trask, who played 49 games at fullback in the blue and yellow hoops from 1969 to 1974. That same year he was also selected for the New Zealand Under-20 squad.
He's come along way since his first memory of playing rugby.
"It was my dad I guess, got me into playing rugby when I was younger.
"I remember ... the first couple of games, being out in bare feet in the cold down in Rotorua, that was probably my first memory.
"I probably didn't actually play that much, probably just there with my uniform on."
At just 20 years old, Trask has plenty to be proud of in his career. Longer term, Trask says he just hopes to continue to play professional rugby in the next five years, with an All Blacks selection the "ultimate goal".
"Signing with the Chiefs is one of the big ones [highlights]. And then also playing in the New Zealand Under 20 team as well."
That team has been the pathway for many All Blacks, past and present, over the years, putting Trask in good stead for the future.
"It kind of gives you like more I guess hope, more of a chance that you can actually do it. You can see where those players have been and then try and replicate it."
And no matter how far Trask's career takes him, you can guarantee his family - including his four siblings Cameron, Rileigh, Braith and Rico - will be cheering him on.
"They've [Braith and Rico] just started playing rugby. They come to all the games.
"They just yell out and tell me to go hard."