By Vinnie Wylie of RNZ
George Bower is still pinching himself after a meteoric rise from trainee teacher to Super Rugby champion.
Two years ago the Crusaders and Otago prop was in the final year of a teaching degree in Dunedin when the chance to focus on rugby full-time finally presented itself.
Fast forward to today and the 28-year-old is rubbing shoulders with World Cup winners on a daily basis, has represented the South Island and is being courted by two international teams.
Born and raised in Lower Hutt to proud Fijian parents, Bower admits he's taken the long road to rugby prominence.
"The years that I have just been chipping away at club rugby I've slowly started to build my game and my scrumming and I was lucky enough that the Otago coaches saw me as a possible option to cover as prop and they brought me up and also developed my footy as well," he said.
"I've been just grinding away ever since then. I managed to get a call up to Crusaders and just last week managed to be a part of the North and South game, which is something I didn't even dream of happening."
A front-rower who can pack down on either side of the scrum, Bower made his provincial debut for Otago in 2014 but had to wait four years before earning another cap.
He was drafted into the Crusaders squad last season as cover but ended up making 10 appearances, including 26 minutes off the bench in the grand final victory over the Jaguares.
Despite being a Super Rugby rookie at 26 he was made to feel instantly welcome by his champion teammates.
"The first day I was there I felt like I was already part of the team because the way they look after and help the young boys and the new rookies coming through and things like that," he recalled. "No one's got big egos there - everyone is looking to help the new players to better them and give them the best opportunity that they can to put their hand up for a spot in the team."
"I don't know how I've ended up there in one of the best teams in the world so I still have to pinch myself sometimes because of the personnel around."
"You had the likes of Sam Whitelock and Joe Moody, Codie Taylor - and even last year the likes of Matt Todd and Kieran Read and Ryan Crotty. You're not going up to them but they'll come up to you and say: 'you need to work on this, you need to work on that'. It's like far out it's coming from him, it means a lot."
Despite playing his part in back to back Super Rugby titles and picking the winner in the North vs South match, Bower hasn't forgotten where it all started.
The Taita College old boy tries to get back to see his family up in Wellington, and help his old club side, as often as he can.
"I managed in our bye week for Crusaders I shot up and had a game against Wainui played for Avalon. I got there and thought I'd give the club a hand and stuff - we didn't win but it was good to get up there and put the jersey on again."
Despite playing for the unfancied Taita College as a teen he wasn't always a regular in the first fifteen but counts himself as fortunate.
"Taita College hasn't produced many [famous] rugby players: Brad Shields, probably Mike Kainga and Nigel Ah Wong are the three I remember from my days but apart from that
they don't really produce many, but there's a lot of talent, raw talent," he said.
"It's just they need development and they need people to help them grow their game. I was lucky that I got the right coaches and the right people to invest in my footy career."
Fijian culture also played a big role in Bower's upbringing, with his parents raising their family in New Zealand after emigrating from Fiji.
"I've been raised up in a Fijian and a church environment where we go to Fijian Church every Sunday and that's my parents way of teaching me the Fijian culture and traditions and things like that," he said.
"Although I don't know how to speak Fijian fluently I did learn a lot of the traditions and protocols that go into play, that you do within Fijian communities and things like that...and I still go back to Fiji when I can to go and visit all my family there as well."