After his highs and lows of last year, Blues Patrick Tuipulotu isn't taking anything for granted as he stands on the brink of a new season.
Hopefully for him that includes being selected for Friday's season-opener against the Highlanders in Dunedin, but his form struggles of 2017 – which saw him overlooked time and again for a starting spot as Tana Umaga went instead for Gerard Cowley-Tuioti and Scott Scrafton – mean there might be some nervousness before he hears his name announced.
Josh Goodhue is another putting pressure on the selectors, something Tuipulotu acknowledges.
But after being sent home from Rome when he was with the All Blacks in November 2016 after failing a drugs test, only to pass the "B" sample, being dropped from the squad to play the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park after turning up late to training without explanation (he also missed the All Blacks squad for the Lions series), Tuipulotu persevered to the point where he was selected again for the national team on the end of year tour and started in the final test against Wales.
It was a good comeback and a testament to his talent and mental strength.
His time captaining Auckland in the Mitre 10 Cup also helped him, although the team's performance left a bit to be desired. It forced him out of his comfort zone and made him a better player, he believes, and now the 2.02m, 128kg giant is ready to take his chances with both hands.
Asked about last year, he told the Herald: "If you start before that – in November the year before – it was a bit of a contrast. I went from being sent home to starting against Wales in that last match. That's a real positive. I can hold my head high that I fought my way in even if it was through injury or whatever."
Tuipulotu's chance in Cardiff – his 16th test - came via the absences of Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano but showed the power of perseverance and a belief in the 25-year-old that he is good enough for this level.
"Just knowing that they still support me and have me on the All Black radar is a good feeling," he said of Steve Hansen and his fellow coaches.
His season with the Blues last year, which promised so much after his difficult time in the off season when he didn't know whether or not he would have to serve a suspension due to his faulty positive drugs test, was probably the most disappointing of his career.
"Performance-wise it wasn't up to the right standard," he said. "Looking back, it was a learning curve. Last year's Super Rugby season, yeah it was up and down. My processes weren't as thorough as they would be now.
"You definitely learn a bit – especially after not being picked for the ABs for the Lions tour."
But there was no doubt Cowley-Tuioti and Scrafton deserved their starting spots ahead of him at the Blues and Tuipulotu said there definitely wasn't any bitterness.
"It wasn't tough because I know them personally and they deserve that spot. It wouldn't be fair to be negative towards them because they earned it. Even now coming in, Josh Goodie [Goodhue] has earned the spot.
"It's competition for us but it's even tougher for the coaches who have to decide who plays.
"I think that's the good thing about it – it will bring the best out of all of us. It's good for the team and our goals and what we want to achieve."
And his taste of the captaincy with Auckland gave him a better understanding of leadership and the importance of relationships.
"I want to be consistent off and on the field. I want to be a leader and that comes down to being disciplined.
"That relationship between coaches, captain and the players is important. Coming into this season I'll have a better background."
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