From second-tier club rugby to the All Blacks, Dillon Hunt's story is the stuff of dreams.

When Hunt left Westlake Boys' High School on Auckland's North Shore after making the first XV in his final year, he was just another teenager heading south to mix good times with study.

A career in rugby was never really on the agenda. Even if it was, making it as far as Dunedin's University Colts B team in 2013 didn't exactly suggest he was on the fast track to the professional ranks.

Rugby can be a political beast at times. Moving to a new city where you are unknown and have no portfolio of work, it generally takes time to make an impression.


As Hunt chipped away at a Bachelor of Surveying degree - he now has one paper left - he slowly scaled the rugby tree, first to the club premiers, then Otago.

But with injuries limiting him to just five appearances, any thoughts of Super Rugby were stymied.

This year began where it all begins; at the grassroots. Hunt toiled away on oft cold and wet Saturday afternoons on boggy grounds like thousands of others around the country who simply play for the love of the game.

Little did he know what the rugby gods had in store. In a scarcely believable set of circumstances, the Highlanders lost all three contracted openside flankers to injury. One by one, Shane Christie, James Lentjes and Dan Prior all went down, and Hunt's big break arrived.

"I was pretty much the only seven on the block there for a point. It was a massive buzz getting the call-up into the Highlanders for a few weeks. I was stoked to be there for whatever time it was. It kept on getting extended week by week."

Getting his foot in the door changed his outlook. Hunt went on to feature in 12 games for the Highlanders - a stretch where he impressed enough to be propelled into the Barbarians at Twickenham, and then into the black jersey against a French XV in Lyon the following week.

"Coming into a professional environment with the Highlanders at the start of the year was pretty foreign to me. Just being able to spend time with good coaches and not having to worry about other stuff on the side has really helped with my footy. That was the launchpad for the rest of the year and everything that's come after that.

"It has been a dream run for me. It's definitely a lot more than I expected."


Twice playing in front of crowds of 60,000 fans, easily the biggest of his career, in test match-like atmospheres could not be further from second-tier Dunedin club rugby.

"I was trying to block that stuff out and just play footy but at the same time back in the changing rooms, it was pretty special to look back on.

"It hits me every now and then but it's kind of intimidating. I think of myself as a club footy player and then I'm up against these big dogs. It's all happened so quickly, it's hard to take it all in."

Even with the major differences between amateur and New Zealand professional environments, the two weeks between the Barbarians and All Blacks were the most contrasting of Hunt's career.

Nerves around making another major step up - and rubbing shoulders with some of the world's best - were soon washed away by the Baabaas' notorious off-field antics that come with bringing the team together inside one week.

"The Baabaas was the most interesting lead-up to a big footy match I've ever had but it seems to work in its own way.

"There's a lot of team bonding throughout the week in various forms and then the guys come together on Saturday and get through it."

Moving on to the All Blacks, Hunt didn't know what to expect. He found everyone welcoming and, by the end of the week, after making his debut off the bench, felt at home. He was also struck by the level of resources.

In between times this year, Hunt has made the effort to return back to where it all began.

"I've been back in the clubrooms a couple of times to catch up with the lads. It's good to have a beer with them. It's a bit more cruisy than the atmosphere of professional rugby."

Hunt's whirlwind year finishes with three weeks travelling Europe before returning to pre-season with the Highlanders on December 12.

Unlike some of his more illustrious team-mates, he can still enjoy the sights in relative obscurity without worrying about being mobbed.

Given where he started this year, Hunt remains on a draft Super Rugby contract - the equivalent of an old wider training group member. The two-year deal he signed before making the All Blacks doesn't see him graduate to a full squad contract until 2019. It aptly depicts the 22-year-old's sudden rise. Even now, as he signs off a remarkable year, he struggles to comprehend his journey.

"It has been completely unexpected and out of the blue but I'm just loving every moment, riding the wave and wanting to make the most of it. Hopefully, I can stay here and do this for a bit longer."