It's been a case of growing up and growing down for acting sensation Jayden Daniels over the past couple of months.

Cast as 17-year-old rugby star Mana Roberts in the new Three drama series, Head High, Daniels realised he was going to have to remember what it was like to be a teenager all over again. Meanwhile, at home, the 26-year-old was preparing for the lockdown arrival of his second child with partner Gigi Barclay.

"It was a bit strange having to play a teenager in Head High and then heading home to look after my toddler (the couple also have a 2-year-old son called Kaewa) and get ready for the arrival of the new baby," says Daniels. "It feels like a long time since I was a teenager and having to revert back to being a high-school attending, moody rugby player, was quite a strange contradiction to my everyday life. I loved every minute of it," tells Daniel.

Head High is a new local drama series about the hopes, dreams and expectations of high school rugby in New Zealand, told through the eyes of rugby mum Renee (Miriama McDowell), her rugby coach husband, Vince (Craig Hall), and their whānau. It will launch on Three on the June 28.


It also stars Shorty alumni Lionel Wellington, Game of Thrones' star Joe Naufahu, Theresa Healey, Mike Edward and a host of amazingly talented young actors who will see their screen debuts with the show. Although it centres around rugby, it's really a series about whānau and real-life family struggles, to which all of NZ will be able to relate.

The lockdown birth of baby daughter Blanka caused the couple some stress but she's doing well and they are now getting into the swing of being a family of four.

"It was kind of crazy having her in lockdown," he says. "It had its good parts and bad parts. It was great to be able to spend so much time together as a whānau and be there for the early days, but there were lots of restrictions around the birth, which made it a bit scary. Our son is in love with her and has been really good at adjusting too, which has been very helpful."

Jayden Daniels as Mana in Head High Supplied to Spy
Jayden Daniels as Mana in Head High Supplied to Spy

The former Shortland Street star found it a fantastic challenge to play Mana on Head High, and not only was he having to play a teenager for the first time in a while, but he also had to learn how to play rugby, a sport with which he hadn't had a lot of previous experience.

"I wasn't really a sports player when growing up," he says. "I think I was about 10 when I gave playing rugby a go. I used to rub dirt into my shirt because everyone else was getting dirty and I hadn't even touched the ball! Picking up a rugby ball and having to play some pretty intense rugby was quite full-on for me, but a really great experience."

Daniels took the responsibility very seriously, of making sure that the rugby looked authentic. So much so, that during filming, he broke his hand during a tackle.

"I definitely threw my whole body into those scenes," he says. "I knew as soon as I made the tackle I'd done something to my hand, but I just wanted to keep going. It definitely made it hard for production, filming around my hand, but they were great in making sure it had healed and moving all the important scenes to the end of the shoot so that I could get back on track."

He is now looking forward to audience reaction to the new show, the trailer of which is already generating a lot of social media talk from fans of Curtis, Daniels' Shorty character.


"This show was made with a lot of heart and with an amazing group of people, who became like a whānau to me," he says. "I think Kiwis are going to love it because it's so relatable and full of characters who will remind them of people they know. I can't wait for them to see it."