Vet Adam Whitelock leading Canterbury charge
Adam Whitelock may attract sideways glances and dark mutterings from Christchurch International Airport officials whenever he exits the country.
His documents state he is still only 27 but rugby aficionados at passport control may dispute his date of birth, noting he has been in the Canterbury and Crusaders teams for donkey's years and that, surely, means he is already on the other side of 30. Well, no.
The second-oldest of the four Whitelock boys won't turn 28 until April; but because he first played for Canterbury seven years ago, and has made 55 appearances for the Crusaders since 2009, he is one of those blokes who seems to have been around forever.
The utility back, who debuted for Canterbury as a 22-year-old, was in the reserves when they beat Wellington 7-6 in the NPC final in 2008 and has had an insight into why the province has morphed into the angry juggernaut that also bulldozed its way to the next five titles.
Despite several campaigns being interrupted by injuries, he has witnessed coaches Rob Penney, Tabai Matson and Scott Robertson dip their selection ladles into a pool of players hardened by the Crusaders' wider training group or Canterbury academy and age-group teams.
Some players are wooed to the province through sports scholarships and the promise of a place in the academy, while others move to Christchurch to try to take their chances.
Whitelock, who moved from Manawatu to study accountancy at the University of Canterbury in 2006, rose through the age-group sides before his provincial debut against Wellington in the 2008 regular season.
Now the utility back hopes to kick-start his rugby career after making only two appearances as a substitute for the Crusaders this year.
''I just wasn't selected. It wasn't to do with injuries - I felt like I was training hard but at the end of the day it was just out of my control a bit,'' Whitelock says.
''I would be lying if I said it wasn't frustrating.
''I just want to get a good season of playing rugby [for Canterbury]. Everyone wants to play rugby, I guess, and I have been chafing at the bit.''
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder allowed Whitelock to join the New Zealand sevens team for several tournaments but he wasn't asked to play at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Whitelock said he had no regrets.
''I was quite lucky that I had a sevens stint and that re-energised me. I learned a lot and going on those overseas tours was great, I enjoyed that. I just want to play rugby like every other person.''
Although he can play both midfield positions and on the wing, he prefers centre and started there in the opening games against Auckland and Waikato.
In Thursday night's 48-3 win over Northland, he ran at second five-eighth but that was a late change because the backline was revamped following the injury of Johnny McNicholl against Waikato the previous week.
''I enjoy No 13 the most; that is the position where I feel most comfortable. I guess I can cover a few positions but I really want to play there.
"At the start of the year I told them [the Canterbury coaches)] that is where I see myself and, hopefully, I can keep pushing my claim.''
In the opening three NPC matches, Whitelock has prowled the park like a man with a point to prove; he is seeing plenty of ball as Canterbury continue their philosophy of utilising every centimetre of grass on attack and has been aggressive in the tackle.
Of the team that won the 2008 final, only Colin Slade, Nasi Manu and George and Adam Whitelock have appeared for Canterbury this season.
With George leaving New Zealand after the Super Rugby season to play for Japanese club Panasonic, who are coached by Robbie Deans, Adam half-expects to arrive for practice sessions at Rugby Park and be greeted by his older sibling.
''We grew up playing year-in, year-out with each other and you turn up for training and he's not there - it is a bit strange. But I have got one brother there at least in Luke and a cousin [in Ben Funnell],'' Adam says.
''He [George] is playing this weekend - coming off the bench. He can count to 10 [in Japanese], he said, and has learned one lineout call. It will be good to get his first game under his belt over there.''