One of the standouts of the Mitre 10 Cup is set to play for Moana Pasifika this weekend – but soon enough, a change of Super Rugby teams could be on the cards.
By the end of next season, if not already, Folau Fakatava will be in hot demand.
Long before his distinctive blond mullet and darting bursts from the base lit up New Zealand's domestic rugby scene Fakatava was highly rated, dubbed the next Aaron Smith by some, even.
This year Fakatava started to showcase that promise. He was a constant threat as Hawke's Bay locked away the Ranfurly Shield for the summer and gained promotion by claiming the Mitre 10 Cup Championship with consummate ease.
A series of captivating performances for the Magpies landed the 20-year-old prospect one final chance to impress this season in Moana Pasifika's maiden one-off match against New Zealand Māori in Hamilton on Saturday night.
Following that match, Fakatava has some big decisions to make when he comes off contract with the Highlanders next year.
While he's loved his two years down south absorbing Smith's vast knowledge, Fakatava knows his path to a regular start is blocked. When the time comes to decide where to next, there will be no shortage of suitors for the future All Blacks halfback.
"I have one more year with the Landers and we'll see what happens from there," Fakatava said as he prepares to link with Highlanders playmaker Josh Ioane for Moana Pasifika. "I'll look around for somewhere I can play some footy but I don't know yet.
"I didn't get to play much with the Landers but I learned a lot behind the world's best halfback, especially with what he does off and on the field.
"It's good to learn from Aaron but at the end of the day I need game time. You can't argue with that because he's the best but I'll hang around next year and see what happens. They reckon they'll give me more game time next year but we'll see.
"I just need to keep training hard and hopefully a spot will open up."
There is the potential of joining Moana Pasifika full-time should they gain entry into Super Rugby from 2022.
"I heard early last year they were going to put a Pacific team in Super Rugby. It will be good but they've got to create some sponsors and get everything else in place first."
Aaron Mauger, the former Highlanders head coach turned Moana Pasifika assistant this week, has observed Fakatava's progress closely.
Mauger says this season Fakatava emerged from the learning zone as he came to grips with blending his off-the-cuff brilliance and the need to stick within a game plan.
"His stocks have gone up based on his form the last couple of months," Mauger said.
"He's found that balance and worked really hard with the Highlanders staff this year and Mark Ozich in Hawke's Bay has also done a great job bringing him on and helping him understand how his game fits within a team structure.
"I'm really proud of him. He's on top of his game – he was outstanding through the Mitre 10 Cup. It's good to see a young player when all the dots start to connect and they can express themselves. He's certainly done that."
The chance to represent Tonga, where Fakatava grew up before gaining a scholarship to Hastings' Boys High School, is close to his heart.
Since securing a professional contract in 2018 Fakatava has regularly sent money home and rebuilt his parents' house that was destroyed by Cyclone Gita.
"Representing my Tongan culture is pretty special. We got into it yesterday, getting to know all of our cultures. My family is very proud. I can't wait to pull on the jersey and play on Saturday.
"Every game my family always watches at home on TV. I help them out if they need anything money wise. They're very proud of what I've achieved this year with the Magpies. We won a lot of games and I played well to end up here. My mum rung me and she was crying. They never thought I would go this far and hopefully I can keep going.
"Last game of the year I don't want to drop my performances so I need to move to the next level of preparation. Hopefully we make the Pacific people proud."
Fakatava's sharp pass and lethal eye for a gap featured prominently for the Magpies but it's another aspect to his game he's pleased to develop.
"At the start of the campaign I wanted to try something else so I had a look at the jackal breakdown turnovers and thought with my strength and I'm small I can get over the ball. I was working with the coaches and I ended up with one or two every game so I was happy with that. Maybe it's a point of difference from the other halfbacks.
"In the Mitre 10 I kept backing myself and I'm really happy with the game time. I ended up with a good bunch of players with the Magpies - we're really tight, we do things for each other and the community so it was a good season we can be proud of."
As for the hairdo that's as noticeable as Fakatava's form, it seems unlikely to accompany his continued rise.
"After lockdown I had to go back to training and I decided to leave it to be myself – not trying to be cool or whatever. I've died it again since and keep it going. It might stay until the end of the year, then I might have to cut it."