When Whakarewarewa head coach Boxer Smith got a call saying All Blacks and Chiefs halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi wanted to play for his side this weekend, he thought he was the butt of an April Fools joke.
However, the offer was legitimate and Tahuriorangi will start for the Rotorua-based side against Te Puna tomorrow.
An away trip to Baywide Premier contenders Te Puna is always a daunting task but having won their first two games of the season and with the extra firepower at halfback, Whakarewarewa will go into the match full of confidence.
Tahuriorangi says the Chiefs having the bye this weekend gave him the rare opportunity to play a game with whānau - his brother-in-law Hunter Wharerau is the Whakarewarewa hooker.
"It's a good opportunity to play some club rugby but it was a tough decision. I'm Rotoiti-hard, born and raised, but it was a good opportunity to rub shoulders and go out to battle with my brother-in-law. We've never played together before so it made sense to go there and play alongside him.
"I got in touch with Boxer, he's a family friend, and he thought it was an April Fools joke, but I told him I was legit and I was keen to play some club rugby."
Tahuriorangi will start at halfback for Whakarewarewa and has been given full license by the Chiefs to play as many minutes as he wants. It will be some valuable game time having spent much of the Super Rugby season playing limited minutes off the bench.
He says club rugby is different to Super Rugby in a number of ways.
"I find club rugby's harder than Super Rugby because you have to worry about the whānau. If you lose or you're not playing good enough - they'll let you know during the game. You do miss it and you don't miss it, what I do miss about club rugby is it's raw, it's played for the passion and it's played for the love of the game. That's what I'm hoping to find tomorrow.
"I'm looking forward to just going out there and enjoying myself, finding some confidence and playing alongside whānau."
The Chiefs made a slow start to the season, losing their first four games on the trot before a 23-all draw with the Hurricanes, but have come good of late with crucial away wins over the Bulls and Jaguares.
Despite being behind veteran Brad Weber in the pecking order for the Chiefs, Tahuriorangi has made an impact from the bench. Against the Jaguares it was his 78th minute try which proved the difference.
"Whenever I come on I try to do my role, whether we're trying to win the game or I'm coming on to hold it out. Whatever the situation is when i come on, I just try to make sure I know what my role is and I think I've been doing that quite good lately."
Smith says Tahuriorangi's presence at training this week and given the team a boost in energy.
"It's huge I think, not just for our club but for the whole Rotorua community. To have a guy with his expertise is great for the team, it has really boosted the team morale. The boys don't mind him coming in and going straight into a position where he's going to make a difference.
"I wasn't expecting that phone call, I thought it was a joke, He's been at Tuesday and Thursday training and you can see it in the boys, the confidence and excitement and belief.
"[Tahuriorangi's] experience at that top level, his professionalism, that will rub off on our players. He's a real humble guy too, he's not coming in to be big-headed or anything, he just wants to play rugby and get among the team environment. That speaks volumes about him as a person."
He says it is a welcome addition ahead of a tough away trip. Te Puna will be Whakarewarewa's first real test after comfortable wins over Te Teko and Ōpōtiki in the first two rounds.
"Te Puna, for the last few years, have beaten us. We haven't got a game up on them. That's the motivation for this week, to get up and redeem ourselves. We've been building to that, using these first two games as stepping stones towards Te Puna."
- Additional reporting Kristin Macfarlane