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Chris Noakes has law and commerce degrees but it's his rugby brain that Blues fans are worried about.
The 27-year-old Aucklander has taken the long way home via Otago, Bay of Plenty and the Highlanders to end up wearing the problematic Blues No 10 jersey.
His comparative experience and maturity is likely to give him the nod for a start ahead of Baden Kerr in the season-opener against the Hurricanes when John Kirwan names his side today.
It's easy to label Noakes a journeyman and his travels back that up. But he's also a late-bloomer in rugby terms, because he took the old-fashioned approach of putting schooling ahead of his sporting ambitions.
Schooled at Kings College in Auckland, he headed straight to Otago University.
"For me, it was something that was expected - you finish school, you go to uni and get a degree," Noakes said.
"But I'm very happy that I've ticked that off and that's not still hanging over me.
"If rugby was to finish for an injury or whatever reasons, I'm very happy that I have something to fall back on.
"I didn't chase a rugby dream. I was just a small white boy when I left school. But rugby took off for me down there and gave me a great chance."
He got an NPC callup with Otago "halfway through my degree", managed to mix both, and now has his rugby to concentrate on.
Signed by the Blues after last year's disastrous campaign, but when they were still under the guidance of Pat Lam, he wondered what his future might hold with the change of coaches.
But Kirwan has maintained the faith in Noakes and he's been thrilled to gain expert tutelage from the likes of former All Blacks coaches Graham Henry and Mick Byrne.
It's a franchise full of opportunities and Noakes is thriving in that environment.
He's aware that virtually every time he lines out against a New Zealand side there will be an All Black No 10 staring at him from across the advantage line.
This week it will be the Hurricane's Beauden Barrett at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington, next week it could be Dan Carter when the Crusaders come to Eden Park.
Noakes is firstly all about doing the basics right. He's a plucky defender, likes to attack the line and possesses a clever left boot.
Like the Blues themselves, he appeals as someone who will develop with time on the job after getting 12 appearances, including seven starts, for the Highlanders last year once injuries hit Colin Slade and Lima Sopoaga.
For Noakes, it will be about getting the balance right in a team of huge promise but little pedigree and knowing the time to put adventure before territory or when the boot must rule over the hand.
"There is a fair amount of x-factor and flair outside me. It's sort of my job and Baden's job to let those boys have space with the ball in hand. It's a very exciting team to be part of, that's for sure.
"It's my hometown. I grew up loving the Blues so I'm very excited about playing for them."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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