The 22-year-' />
By CHRIS RATTUE
It would be ironic indeed should Taranaki's first five-eighths Brock James end up playing for the Hurricanes.
The 22-year-old from Sydney came to New Zealand to get noticed alright, but in Australia.
Having taken significant steps as a junior towards a professional career, he found the most important door closed on him.
After graduating from a succession of Australian age group teams, the New South Wales academy and playing for his country's sevens side, James has, thus far, been ignored by the Waratahs with no signs of a change of heart.
Which ranks quite high in the world of no-confidence votes. Tim Donnelly and Shaun Berne, the incumbents, are hardly giants of the game.
The Waratahs' also pursued the ageing and injury-affected rugby league great Andrew Johns with an open chequebook, and even tried to lure Queensland halfback Josh Valentine for the job.
The latest suggestion is that the re-signed Lote Tuqiri will shift from wing to fullback, with Mat Rogers going to first-five.
There's a common theme in these shenanigans - James never rates a mention. Which, on the NPC evidence so far, is a touch surprising.
Sunday's fifth-round match between Taranaki and Canterbury will give Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper a better clue about James' ability, but he's already sought a ruling on whether he can select the Sydneysider.
James would need a New Zealand Rugby Union dispensation. His status as an Australian sevens representative makes him ineligible for the All Blacks, and the NZRU is reluctant to let such players take Super 12 places - although there are some well-publicised precedents.
It was a case of "Brock-who" when he arrived in New Plymouth.
"I wasn't moving in the direction I wanted," says James, whose Sydney University club includes test forwards Brendan Cannon, Dan Vickerman, Phil Waugh and David Lyons.
"A lot of players in Australia feel it is frowned on a bit to go overseas, as opposed to hanging around waiting for your opportunity at home.
"But I was stuck in first grade in Sydney and not getting any further opportunities. I wanted to get to the highest level I could. I needed a new challenge."
James got a stoic Taranaki welcome.
"He backed himself. And we gave no guarantees," says the union's development manager, Rob Yule.
James had decided that Taranaki offered his best opportunity, after performing below expectations last year.
Taranaki, who had received a video of James in action, did some scouting of their own. Contacts in Australia said he had a sound attitude, strong kicking game, could take the ball to the line, and passed accurately under pressure.
James went the whole hog and arrived at the beginning of the club season, being allocated to the Coastal club which needed a first five-eighths.
He figured an early arrival would help him come to grips with the New Zealand game, and also remove any eligibility problems. By playing before May 1, he is classified as a local and does not take up one of the two import positions.
James helped Coastal make the semifinals, finishing as the competition's top points-scorer. Taranaki were also considering Mark Urwin, who started in the No 10 jersey seven times during last year's NPC, but a shoulder injury has sidelined him.
James has been a revelation so far. He has formed a promising partnership with halfback Brendan Haami, picked his moments to show his running ability, produced some outstanding and long tactical kicking, and landed 26 goals at a 79 per cent success rate.
Against Northland in Whangarei on Saturday night, James notched 27 points, beating Taranaki's NPC record of 26 set by current coach Kieran Crowley nearly 20 years ago.
And he's already beaten Daryl Lilley's record of 20 conversions in a season, testament not just to his goalkicking but the flourishing work of a new backline.
If his Herald interview is anything to go by, James is not one to get carried away however.
He points out that Taranaki have yet to face any of the Super 12 base unions.
"I'm not overly excited with what I've achieved, just pretty happy. We're not getting too far ahead of ourselves though. There are five pretty tough games to go."
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