Bay of Plenty locals have long been aware that Rotorua Boys' High School produces some of the best rugby talent in the country but lately NRL scouts have been catching on too. In the modern era, there is less expectation for oval ball athletes to stick to either union or league - since 2017, Rotorua Boys' first XV stars Hayze Perham, Tom Ale and Selesitino Ravutaumada have all signed with the New Zealand Warriors in the NRL. This year the North Queensland Cowboys have come calling and signed Tukimihia Simpkins, a young athlete with the potential to be the best of the lot. Three years ago, a North Queensland Cowboys scout saw Tukimihia Simpkins playing in a Bay of Plenty Rugby League Junior Carnival in Rotorua and decided on the spot he had to have him.
The Rotorua Boys' High School first XV star was signed to a junior contract and has travelled to Townsville for training camps with the Cowboys several times since.
He has progressed just as the recruitment staff hoped he would and now, as Simpkins' time at Rotorua Boys' High School draws to a close, he has realised a dream and signed a professional NRL contract with North Queensland.
While predominantly a rugby union player to this point, he does have league experience having played for the school and for the Pikiao Rugby League Club previously.
Simpkins said he started playing league "for fun with the boys" but was looking forward to attempting to make a career out of it.
"I'm pretty excited, nervous - I've got mixed emotions. Growing up as a kid I wanted to be an All Black but then moved to Rotorua and started playing league which changed my mind really.
Being at Boys' High has helped me a lot, finding out what my values are and how to put them towards my game. It's helped me grow into a young man.
"I try to have the same values [whether playing league or union] and just work hard, do what I can for the team. Being at Boys' High has helped me a lot, finding out what my values are and how to put them towards my game. It's helped me grow into a young man."
A barnstorming No 8 in rugby union, who boasts an abundance of power, aggression and toughness, he is expected to play in the second row when he makes the transition to league. In the last two years he has spent pre-seasons with the Cowboys, first with the under-20 squad and this year with the first team.
"The weather was testing because it's hot as over there but it was good to meet some of the boys and people I'll be mingling with when I move over there (in November).
"I feel like I'm ready to grow up and start my journey. I'm looking forward to finding out what that journey is and hopefully playing in the NRL."
His journey so far shares a lot of similarities with another Kiwi-born league player at the club. The Cowboys scouted Jason Taumalolo and he moved to Townsville when he was 14 - he is now arguably the most devastating forward in the game.
"This year I went and trained with Jase and all that. They welcomed me heaps, especially Jase, being a Kiwi as well. He knows how I felt and welcomed me in. I'll try to learn as much as I can from him, he's one of the best in the game."
Simpkins has watched former first XV teammates Hayze Perham, Tom Ale and Selestino Ravutaumada sign NRL contracts with the Warriors in recent years. Perham made his NRL debut earlier this year.
"I really looked up to Hayze when I was a young buck in the [first XV] so to see him up there, getting his debut in the NRL, that's really cool to see."
North Queensland Cowboys recruitment manager Clint Zammit said Simpkins was "one of the kids I've been most excited about in the last three or four years".
"He's got a good body shape and he was athletic with it but the thing that got me was his toughness. He's tough and aggressive, he can offload and I just thought he had heaps of upside and would be an even better player in three or four years because he'd grow into his body.
Everyone at the club has got to know him and love him so he's a big part of our club and I think he'll be playing there for the next 10 years.
"I met Tuki I was even more impressed. His dad (Ngarimu Simpkins) is a wonderful person and Tuki has been a wonderful kid with a good attitude and good work ethic."
Zammit said Simpkins had progressed well since first signing on a junior contract.
"He did two or three weeks of training with the NRL side this year, his progression has been wonderful. Everyone at the club has got to know him and love him so he's a big part of our club and I think he'll be playing there for the next 10 years."