Hadleigh Parkes looks like he's just come in from a surf.
And his blonde, scraggly hair isn't a bad reflection of a bloke who has been going with the flow ever since he left Palmerston North Boys High School.
Parkes is well travelled, to the point he calls himself a "rugby gypsy" after a career that in three years has included stints with the Manawatu Turbos and Auckland in the national championship and the Blues, Southern Kings and Hurricanes in Super Rugby.
"I originally went to school at Palmy Boys and we've got a family farm in the Rangitikei there ... so I grew up supporting the Hurricanes," the 26-year-old said this week.
"Then I headed to University in Christchurch, before ending up having a season in Manawatu, then up to Auckland and now here. So, yeah, I'm well travelled. I'm a bit of a rugby gypsy.
"I wasn't an age-grade star. I just enjoy the game, got a couple of selections and then got a crack through Dave Rennie at the Manawatu Turbos. It's actually ended up going quite well so, hopefully, it'll continue. I never thought it'd be a career."
Parkes' greatest adventure came last year when the Southern Kings two Kiwi coaches, Matt Sexton and Brad Moore, came calling with an offer to ply his trade in Port Elizabeth.
The Kiwi ring-in lived in a flat with his girlfriend on Moore's property, only a few minutes from a student beach and enjoyed every moment.
"The experience over there was awesome, with a great bunch of boys. As soon as they find out you're not Australian they really look after you," Parkes laughs. "I got right into the braai [BBQ] side of things ... it was a unique year and great fun."
On the field he made two appearances for Eastern Province in the Currie Cup, then seven for the Kings in a season cut short when he broke his arm against the Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium, an injury that sees him play with a padded forearm.
Parkes has plenty of upside. He captained Auckland last year, starting all eleven matches at second five-eighth and at 101kg has plenty of size.
However, his defence in Super Rugby has been an issue, and has already reared its head during three matches for the Hurricanes with seven missed tackles to his name.
Parkes is aware he needs to lift and his ability to nail the position could be pivotal for a side that's had defensive issues in the midfield since Ma'a Nonu left at the end of 2011.
"The attack part of the play is going quite well, but I'm making some silly mistakes on defence at the moment and I have to get that out of my game. I've been working hard on that this week and hopefully come Friday night [against the Highlanders] it'll be a lot better," he said.
"I have to scan a lot better. I haven't put enough emphasis on that at training, and I need to make sure I have a good look at what's coming my way and [I'm] making the right decisions. End of the day it's cost us a couple of tries."
Parkes' other focus is using his strength in the tackle and ability to stay on his feet. That can help get the attack on the front foot, but the Hurricanes will settle for a solid defensive effort above anything else in Dunedin tonight.
- The Dominion Post
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