Sam Rapira may be the youngest member of the Wai-Coa-Bay Stallions rugby league squad but he is already making big impressions.
The 17-year-old made his first run-on start for the Stallions in round nine of the Bartercard Cup on Saturday and in just his third appearance in the national competition earned player-of-the-day honours from coaches Tawera Nikau and Len Reid.
Rapira, a prop-second rower, is in his second season with the New Zealand Warriors development squad, along with Hukanui clubmate Duan Poaneki, and is in the middle of a three-year contract with the club.
The Hamilton Boys' High Year 13 student has impressed with the Stallions with determined running, tough defence and dedication, with coaches predicting a first grade career.
"I'm impressed with his attitude, his work ethic. He's definitely a player of the future," Reid said.
His rise to the Bartercard Cup has been more than rapid.
He started the 2004 season in the Waikato under-18 competition before quickly being elevated to the Wai-Coa-Bay premier competition, where he played a game alongside his father Cliff, then the Stallions squad.
"I just try to play better than the guy in my position on the other team. You can't hold back, you've got to give it everything. You've got to psyche yourself up," said Sam, who, at 1.84m, weighs in at 101kg.
"Before this happened I was sort of just playing for ... fun, really, but now with the techniques, I'm learning heaps."
Stepping up to the Stallions, has brought extra training and a squeeze on his weekly schedule. He trains Monday and Wednesday nights under former Warriors and Kiwi hooker Duane Mann in Auckland, then has Stallions training Tuesday and Thursday and a game Saturday or Sunday.
"It gets pretty full-on for him sometimes," said Rapira's mother Liz, who would drive the twice-weekly trips to Auckland before he got his full driver's licence.
To cope with the workload of rugby league and school work, he has since been allowed to skip the Stallions' Tuesday fitness sessions. Sunday still remains his sole day off.
Earlier this year, Rapira sat down with Stallions media officer John Devonshire outlining a career timeline, which included making his Bartercard debut and the New Zealand under-18 team this year, cementing a place in the Stallions team by next season and pushing for an NRL start by 2007.
That will need revisiting.