Jarrad Butler remembers a time when Jerry Collins could do no wrong.
He recalls those blustery nights at the Cake Tin where later he dreamt of playing for the Hurricanes and All Blacks.
These days, however, Collins is detained in a Japanese jail and the 21-year-old that looked at the blindside flanker with awe has designs on a Wallabies jersey, preferably sporting the No 6.
Leaving Wellington as a 13-year-old because his Mum Reay liked the climate on the Gold Coast initiated Butler's change of outlook, and he is gradually working towards his goal after being promoted to the Reds wider training group this season.
Butler made his Super Rugby debut against the Highlanders in the penultimate round of the 2012 regular season when Ewen McKenzie plucked him from the Australian Rugby Union academy to address an injury crisis.
The versatile loose forward was retained for following week's derby with New South Wales and was on the bench when the Reds reign as champions was ended by the Sharks in their qualifying final.
Butler, identified as a potential professional footballer while on a rugby scholarship at The Southport School, played off the bench in rounds one and two against the Brumbies and Waratahs.
He was not required for victories over the Hurricanes and Rebels but was recalled for the derby against the Western Force.
The Bulls visit to Brisbane last weekend marked the first start of his career, in the unfamiliar role of openside.
Liam Gill is back on the side of the scrum at Forsyth Barr Stadium tomorrow night but Butler is in reserve in what shapes as another memorable occasion - his first Super Rugby game on "home" soil.
Butler, who has a preference for blindside or No 8, is relishing every opportunity he is receiving, realising Jake Schatz, Gill and Ed Quirk comprise the first choice loose trio.
"To get a shot and be on the bench regularly - I've been really stoked with how it's been going," said Butler, a part-time student at the Queensland University of Technology who has embraced another learning experience.
"We've got a really good back row. I'm learning as much as I can off Radike (Samo), who's been around for a while, and guys like Gilly."
Butler moved to Brisbane when selected for the Reds academy in 2010 - his switch of allegiance was also confirmed then.
"I was a big fan of going to the Cake Tin, I used to love watching Jerry, Tana Umaga, Rodney So'oialo.
"Absolutely I wanted to be like them. I grew up watching those guys," he said.
Butler also followed his heroes in black, but once rugby became a viable career option he joined the Kiwi-born contingent that has swapped sides since living in Queensland: Quade Cooper, Digby Ioane, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Mike Harris and Albert Anae.
"I started playing rugby in New Zealand but as far as senior rugby goes, it's all been in Australia.
"My goal is to play for the Wallabies, that's where I'm trying to head."
Meanwhile, although he is no longer an All Black supporter, he is a Liam Messam fan.
Messam is a similar build to Butler - 108kg to 106kg - although at 1.90m is 4cm taller than the adopted Australian.
"I really like the way he plays. He's not the tallest bloke but he's still playing in that six position," Butler said.
"I respect him for the way he's gone about his business. I wouldn't mind playing him."
They actually played a pre-season trial on the Sunshine Coast last month but Butler is looking forward to a genuine match-up when the Chiefs host the Reds on April 13.
"It's a different story playing a trial so that (round nine clash) would be a great opportunity."
- Fairfax Media
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