This time last year Ryan Crotty was weighing up offers to play rugby offshore.

He was tempted. Of course he was. The money was ridiculous and everyone has a price.
It was also hard for him to be sure about what his future would look like staying in New Zealand. Since making his debut in 2013, he'd been the nearly man of the All Blacks midfield.

He was on the edge of the squad, in and out depending on the injury status of Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Conrad Smith and Malakai Fekitoa. Crotty was definitely the fifth option - literally, a safe pair of hands to call upon.

Given the circumstances by which he typically ended up winning his caps, the idea sunk in that Crotty was a fix-it sort of player. He was only ever in the team on a temporary basis: holding the fort while one or more of the big dogs was recuperating.


As he contemplated a move to Europe, he tried to assess whether he'd become something else in 2016 knowing as he did that Nonu and Smith would both be moving on.

It was a tough decision but he opted to stay. He was willing to back himself to play his way to a more stable All Blacks footing.

Everyone else may have seen him as an emergency fill-in, but he was strong enough to believe he could be more: that he had the skills, resilience and desire to establish himself as a front-line All Black.

And maybe this is the week where it will dawn on everyone that Crotty has now made that transition. He has established himself as the country's best second-five. In his four tests this year he's run hard, tackled hard and been willing to take on selfless and often under-appreciated tasks such as having to be the one to straighten the attack by cutting back into the traffic and recycling. He keeps his game simple yet effective. He doesn't overplay his hand but nor does he avoid taking responsibility.

It wouldn't be fair to call him a no-frills, vanilla sort of player as he's shown he can beat defenders with pace and footwork, while he's also in possession of a neat off-loading repertoire and short kicking portfolio.

What's interesting to ponder is the magnitude of the task facing Williams to win back the All Blacks No12 jersey when he resumes playing next year.

He is bigger, more explosive, more experienced and arguably in possession of significantly more weaponry, but the Crotty package works well in test football and is becoming increasingly difficult to see beyond.

As long as Crotty can avoid injury, he has a chance to cement his place and develop the confidence he needs to express the parts of his game that many have wrongly argued he doesn't have. By November this year there will most likely be no doubt Crotty is a front-line All Black.