Lincoln McClutchie found clarity through confusion.
In early 2020, the young Kiwi first five-eighth had travelled to Japan, taking up his first professional contract in the Japanese Top League. A talent many tipped for big things from his performances with Hawke's Bay, McClutchie was eager to improve his skills with the experience abroad.
That experience lasted all of four games before Covid-19 took hold of the world, shut down the competition and saw McClutchie on a flight home to New Zealand.
"I came back home and was sitting on the couch, looking at the wall and thinking to myself 'what do I do now?'" McClutchie recalls.
It forced him to think of a plan B in case professional rugby wasn't going to pan out. So, during the offseason of the National Provincial Championship, McClutchie started a building apprenticeship.
He was still playing for Hawke's Bay, but after missing out on a Super Rugby contract for 2020 despite a stint as injury cover for the Highlanders in 2019 and having represented the Hurricanes at under-20s level, the star playmaker had to take a realistic look at his future beyond rugby.
With a backup plan in place, the Magpies No 10 could play without the pressure of what might be next; if a contract came at the end of the NPC season, then so be it.
"I knew I had one more year with Hawke's Bay so I stuck my head at that, made sure I went into the season feeling good about myself and gave it all in last year's season," he says.
He missed out on a Super Rugby contract again for the 2021 season, but things have a way of working out. After he again starred in the black and white hoops late last year, McClutchie signed on as a part of the inaugural Moana Pasifika Super Rugby squad for 2022.
McClutchie held conversations with several teams for the 2022 campaign, including the Crusaders and Hurricanes. However, Moana Pasifika came to him early in the piece, and he jumped at the opportunity for a role the size of which he likely wouldn't have had with other franchises.
While he is still only 22, McClutchie admits earning that contract took some of the weight of expectation off of his shoulders. Ever since his schoolboy days at Hastings Boys' High School, fans and pundits had taken notice of his skill and potential.
When asked if he had ever felt the pressure that came with the tags he had been given, he responds with a laugh.
"Yeah, a little bit," he says.
"It's not really pressure, it's more the expectations; everyone expecting you to be there. It's not that easy coming up as a rugby player.
"I'm only 22. I always remind myself I'm still young, I've still got a lot to grow, but time will tell. I'm going to slowly progress, slowly get better.
"For me as a rugby player, patience was key. Maybe I wasn't ready in my previous years, but I thought if I just keep my head down to earth, stuck at what I was good at, stuck at what I loved, the opportunities would pop up. I was happy to have Moana Pasifika approach me and I'm just really grateful."
McClutchie will be around plenty of familiar faces in the Moana Pasifika squad. Hawke's Bay teammates Joe Apikotoa (prop), Eretara Enari (halfback), Danny Toala (midfield), Lolagi Visinia (utility back), Neria Fomai (utility back), Anzelo Tuitavuki (wing), and Solomone Funaki (loose forward) also earned a spot in the squad. Naming the team the Moana Pasifika Magpies or Moana Bay remains up for debate, McClutchie says with a grin.
He will also have the opportunity to learn from and bounce ideas off former Wallabies playmaker Christian Leali'ifano, who returns to Super Rugby after playing 150 times for the Brumbies between 2007 and 2019 before heading to Japan.
"He's a real key factor in our team," McClutchie said of Leali'ifano.
"He's a key player I want to learn off this year - coming from the Wallabies, Brumbies, seeing him play in Japan, he's been around the world, travelled - he's been there, he's felt the pressure before, so it'll be good getting little tips from him throughout the year so when we do hit the storm and things aren't coming our way, he'll be a good person to get a few tips off. He's been through quite a bit in his life as well, so I'm really looking forward to that."
With plenty of room still to grow in his game, McClutchie is soaking up the experience at the beginning of the next stage in his career.
He says coming into the season, he wants to be a game-driver. It's something he has worked hard on in recent seasons with Hawke's Bay, and he hopes to bring that confidence into the next level with him when he gets his chance.
"I want to be dominant," he says.
"I want to be able to deliver, and I want to be happy. That's a key point - I don't want rugby to take over me. I still want to be able to enjoy life, which is a key thing for me, but also just make my family proud."