In a nation brimming with raw athletic ability, it is often attitude and a desire to succeed which make the difference.

Natural talent is something you are born with and, in some cases, is enough to carry an athlete through the early stages of their career. However, those who want to reach the elite level of performance have to have a professional attitude and desire to be the best they can be.

I saw all of that and more when I interviewed a Rotorua Boys' High School rugby star who has been signed by the New Zealand Warriors last week.

At just 18 years of age Hayze Perham appears to have a level of maturity beyond his years which I am sure will see him go on to do great things. He is well spoken and exudes confidence without any hint of arrogance, which in a rugby-obsessed nation where we treat our star players like gods, is becoming increasingly rare.


A prime example of the attitude with which he approaches sport was when I asked what he was most excited about when he joins the Warriors. It wasn't the fact that he was going to play professionally and get paid to do so, it wasn't the opportunity to rise to the top and become a household name, it was the chance to train with some of the world's best players and further develop himself as an athlete.

It is that desire to constantly improve, to never rest on what you have achieved so far, that provides a platform for athletes to become elite. A good example is Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the highest-paid, most successful athletes in the world, who famously spends time after each training working on individual facets of his game.

Often, athletes who are blessed with superior ability at a young age are able to go into cruise control, for years they are not required to train as hard as others because their natural talent carries them through. However, when they reach that elite level, those bad habits can weight them down.

Take NRL behemoth Dave Taylor for example. The 120kg, 1.85m giant is blessed with size, strength and skill. He has the ball-playing abilities of a halfback but is one of the biggest forwards in the game. NRL experts speak of the way he cruised through secondary school rugby league - that combination of attributes carrying him all the way to the NRL.

But, since making the NRL, in which he has played for the Broncos, Rabbitohs, Titans and Raiders, he has never lived up to his potential. He doesn't know how to work hard.

Attitude can also affect an entire team.

Before the Bay of Plenty women's rugby team, the Volcanix, kicked off their Farah Palmer Cup campaign this year I interviewed co-captain Kaci James. The Volcanix failed to win a single game in 2016 and James spoke at length about her side's shift in attitude this year, a new-found professionalism that she believed would see them improve.

She and her teammates have proven it was not just talk. In their opening game they drew 10-all with Premiership side Auckland, who had hammered them by more than 50 and 100 points in the last two seasons. They built on that momentum and have since beaten Hawke's Bay, North Harbour and Tasman to sit at the top of the Championship table.

Every time I speak to a Volcanix player or a member of the coaching team they speak of their motto for the season; "Be better than before". From what I've seen the entire squad has bought into that mantra and it has seen them thrive.

The Farah Palmer Cup is a great advertisement for women's rugby in New Zealand and it would be great to see the Volcanix make the finals because I, for one, know they deserve it.