Aaron Smith re-signing with New Zealand Rugby and the Highlanders through to the 2023 World Cup should not be taken for granted. The All Blacks halfback, three tests shy of becoming New Zealand's 10th centurion, remains highly motivated to compete in the elite arena and influential in every environment.
Smith, at 32 years old, having claimed one World Cup and Super Rugby title in the same 2015 season, could easily opt to uproot his young family and cash in abroad. No one could begrudge him doing so.
Yet the type of competitor Smith is that option was never going to eventuate. Not yet, anyway.
Two years from now Smith's view and, indeed, the pandemic-consumed global landscape may alter but he remains inspired by the likes of gifted French halfback Antoine Dupont and deeply passionate about the All Blacks, Highlanders and Manawatu.
Since the birth of son, Luka, in particular Smith has matured into the model professional – an invaluable presence for any team - while building a home and business alongside wife Tegan in Dunedin.
While the fire burns within, Smith will continue to strive to be the world's best.
The most pressing questioning arising from confirmation Smith will push through to the next global showpiece comes around his deputy at the Highlanders, Folau Fakatava.
In his final contracted season with the southern franchise, this year was always going to be decision year for Fakatava.
Following a breakout provincial campaign with Hawke's Bay the Highlanders promised Fakatava more game-time this season – and they delivered round one by replacing Smith at a crucial stage, 56 minutes into Friday's opening Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa loss to the Crusaders.
Fakatava made an immediate impact with his dynamic running and lethal step coming to the fore as he exposed tiring ruck defenders.
While elements of his game need further work, Fakatava appears poised to rise swiftly through the ranks in much the same fashion as Smith following his move to the Highlanders under Jamie Joseph in 2011 – a decision that propelled him into the All Blacks the next year.
The crux of the issue is whether Fakatava is content biding his time behind Smith where the best he can probably hope for is two starts a season and, otherwise, 20-30 minutes off the bench.
Speaking to the Herald before debuting for Moana Pasifika last December, Fakatava said of his decision this year: "It's good to learn from Aaron but at the end of the day I need game time. You can't argue with that because he's the best but I'll hang around next year and see what happens. They reckon they'll give me more game time next year but we'll see.
"I just need to keep training hard and hopefully a spot will open up."
Everyone can see the 21-year-old is ready to start for a Super Rugby team now. For the best interests of his development, it makes perfect sense for him to chase that opportunity next season, and with co-captain Smith staying that won't come at the Highlanders, unless a major injury strikes.
Fakatava appears unlikely to move to the Chiefs, where All Blacks halfback Brad Weber heads off Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, who played the last of his three tests in 2018, and Xavier Roe, the 22-year-old Waikato prospect expected to apply serious heat in the coming years.
The Hurricanes could desperately do with Fakatava this season, while rookie halfbacks Luke Campbell and Jonathan Taumateine contest the start in the absence of TJ Perenara and the injured Jamie Booth.
With Perenara set to return from Japan next season, however, a move to the Hurricanes could leave Fakatava in much the same position he finds himself now – challenging an established All Blacks for the start.
The Crusaders are an option, though whether Fakatava's often free-spirited style would suit their structured preference of using Bryn Hall and Mitchell Drummond to consistently feed Richie Mo'unga is another matter.
While Sam Nock and Jonathan Ruru began the year for the Blues, Finlay Christie is their standout nine, but the stacked Auckland franchise would no doubt welcome Fakatava's threats.
The wild card comes in the form of Moana Pasifika and their expected introduction from next season. Joining any start-up team comes with risks, though, as competitiveness in years one and two will likely be a struggle.
Fakatava will be an influential asset wherever he lands – yet his big decision this year is by no means straightforward.