In terms of professional rugby, Bay of Plenty Steamers lock Baden Wardlaw is a late bloomer.
Just over a year ago, at 28, he made his provincial rugby debut with the Steamers against Canterbury at the Tauranga Domain after a string of impressive performances as captain of his club side at the time, Rotoiti.
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This season Wardlaw has cemented a starting spot in the Steamers line-up and his performances, along with his team's scintillating form, have caught the eye of Super Rugby selectors.
He had offers to play overseas this year but chose to stay in New Zealand and chase the dream. The decision paid off last week when he signed a contract to play for the Blues in next year's Super Rugby championship.
"I'm pretty stoked and just grateful," Wardlaw said.
"[Playing Super Rugby] has been the dream since I was a kid, I've only been in the game [professionally] for two or three years so for me to get something like this, this early - I'm quite proud and my family's proud too."
He said being part of the Steamers set-up for the last couple of years had helped him on and off the field.
"It's massive, the coaches and the management have helped me be a better rugby player and a better person.
"There were a few teams coming at me, it was all sort of happening at once and the Blues were the ones who were standing out and were just good to me from the get-go. It just felt right."
Playing Super Rugby is an opportunity to play alongside and learn from some of New Zealand's best. Another addition the Blues have made to their squad for 2020 is two-time World Player of the Year Beauden Barrett.
"I'll just embrace it when I get up there, take it step by step and soak it all up."
Steamers head coach Clayton McMillan said seeing players like Wardlaw be scouted for higher honours was "what it's all about".
"The Mitre 10 Cup is a development competition ... Real success for us is seeing young men grow as young men and also promoting them to higher honours.
"Baden won't be the last, I reckon, and that's what happens when the team performs - individuals prosper. I'm really pleased that players are starting to get the recognition that we've always thought they deserve."
Consistently strong at set piece time, McMillan said Wardlaw had added other elements to his overall game in the last two years.
"I think there's a few elements of his game that he's really improved, particularly in his carry, cleans, he's strong over the ball. His set piece has always been pretty sound but he's added a few other dimensions - physicality and a huge engine - and those are the sorts of things that have opened up the door to Super Rugby."
Previously the captain of the Rotoiti club side, which he led to the Baywide Premier final two years ago, Wardlaw made the move to Whakarewarewa for the 2019 season. His coach there, Boxer Smith, said he and everyone at the club were delighted.
"His work ethic is huge, he puts in the hard yards," Smith said.
"It's obviously paid off for him, he stayed home from America [to play rugby] to pursue that [Super Rugby] and as a coach I couldn't be happier for him. He's a hard working family man with three kids and most of his decisions are based around his family."
He said Wardlaw's improved ball skills this season would've helped him secure a contract.
"Locks are hard to come by all over the country and if you've got one that can play ball as well as do their core roles well, that's a huge benefit. His tackling's been good to and he's won the Bay a few penalties every game."
Before he can start thinking too much about Super Rugby, Wardlaw and his Steamers teammates will be focused on the job at hand.
They play Southland in Invercargill in their final round robin match on Thursday night. If they win that and Hawke's Bay lose to Tasman, the Bay of Plenty side will finish the round robin in first place.