During his teenage days Hawke's Bay Magpies utility back Danny Toala idolised All Black midfielders Sonny Bill Williams and Ma'a Nonu.
Tomorrow night Toala, 20, could have minutes marking both of them in his first starting XV appearance for the Hurricanes in their final Super Rugby round robin clash of the season against the Blues at Wellington's Westpac Stadium. Toala will start at second five-eighth alongside centre Peter Umaga-Jensen in a new-look midfield pairing.
"This is hard to believe. When I was first named to start I thought it would be against Ma'a. Then I heard it was Sonny Bill ... this is going to be a massive challenge," Toala said.
"Obviously Sonny Bill is big and physical. I have to chop him down and get good shots on him to stop his offloads. I could be still on the field when the Blues bring Ma'a off the bench ... an unbelievable experience," Toala said.
In his first class debut for the Hurricanes Toala had 12 minutes off the bench in last weekend's 37-17 win against the Lions in South Africa. Back in March he was named as a substitute for the match against the Stormers in the capital but never took the field.
"It was an unreal feeling making my debut against the Lions. While the boys were hissing it wasn't as quick as in the first half as they were starting to get tired."
The 2017 New Zealand Secondary Schools representative who made four first class appearances for the Magpies last year, only one of them as a starter, was quick to reply when quizzed on his work ons for tomorrow night.
"Making sure I make my tackles and bossing the forwards around."
Toala and Umaga-Jensen had some minutes together for the Hurricanes Development team earlier this year but tomorrow night will be their first match starting together as a midfield combination. Umaga-Jensen has been injured most of the season.
The majority of Toala's games for the national title-winning Hastings Boys' High School 1st XV in 2017 were at fullback but he said he has enjoyed the switch to second five-eighth and it is his preferred position.
It isn't a surprise Toala has been inundated with requests from family members for tickets to tomorrow night's match.
"I'm lucky the manager has given me a few extras this week. I'm sure I've got the biggest allocation," he added.
While Toala will mark Williams, a 33-year-old veteran of 51 tests, from kick off Magpies No 8 Gareth Evans will mark fellow one-match All Black and in-form contender for the World Cup squad Akira Ioane. Recently signed Magpies lock Isaia Walker-Leawere will also start for the Canes while Magpies outside back Jonah Lowe is likely to get game time off the subs bench and if he does this will be his second first class outing for the side after coming off the pine in last year's 24-13 loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Former Magpies halfback Jonathan Ruru is expected to get some minutes off the pine for the Blues.
Canes captain and All Black hooker Dane Coles will return to the starting XV for the first time since round five. Coles, who has made 107 appearances for the Hurricanes, impressed off the bench during the side's successful two-match tour of South Africa.
That included playing the second half against the Lions when he scored two tries in the win, a result which guaranteed them a home quarterfinal with a round to play.
With fourth place on the overall table secured, Hurricanes head coach John Plumtree has made a number of changes to the run-on side to face the Blues as he looks to manage the workloads of a number of players who have played a lot of minutes in recent weeks.
That includes the frontrow where props Toby Smith and Jeff Toomaga-Allen have been replaced by Fraser Armstrong and Ross Geldenhuys while lock James Blackwell, who has started every match, has been given an opportunity to freshen up.
The halves combination is also new with first five-eighth Jackson Garden-Bachop starting outside halfback Richard Judd.