Jordan Payne is living the dream.
The big young midfield back, who transferred from Auckland to Waikato this season, has never played national provincial championship rugby and only one premier club match.
But he made his Super Rugby debut for the Chiefs as a winger off the bench on Saturday night and impressed with everything he did in a 34-minute, second-half cameo at Waikato Stadium.
Many of the players he has been training alongside since December and now playing with have been his heroes up until now, but now they are his team-mates.
"Out of it," said Payne of his whirlwind elevation after three seasons in Auckland wrecked by injuries.
"When I first came down here I had a meeting with Straws [Chiefs assistant coach Andrew Strawbridge] and Renns [head coach Dave Rennie] and they sort of introduced me to Chiefs stuff and what could happen.
"They said that I might be getting a Chiefs debut, possibly, during the year but I didn't believe them. Not in my wildest dreams."
Auckland-born Payne went to Sacred Heart College there, but missed his final season of first XV rugby with a back injury that required surgery and also sidelined him for his first 18 months out of school.
He played some under-21 rugby for Pakuranga and last year made his premier debut for the club only to break his leg and miss the rest of the club season, coming back to play some under-21/under-20 rep rugby.
"When I came back I was a bit stiff and a bit slow but the last six months has gone all right."
So why did he move to Hamilton?
"Just a bit more opportunity. The Auckland midfield's pretty stacked, Waikato approached me and it was too good an offer to refuse really.
"I wasn't thinking Chiefs at all. Just first goal first, which was to try and make the Waikato team and all of a sudden I got pulled in for a bit of pre-season with the Chiefs and it's just gone from there."
It all became very real when he was named to travel with the Chiefs to Perth and South Africa for their recent three-match tour and while he did not strip for any matches he knew he really was now part of the Chiefs and not just a fringe wider training group member.
"I had a Chiefs Development game, came off that and Renns called me up and said 'come in on Monday', I did all the recovery stuff with the Chiefs and then at the end of the day Renns came up and said 'you're off to Africa, go and see Don [Shergold] and get a bag of gear and we'll see you at the airport.
"I was talking to the family and they said dad will be up in Auckland tonight and I said that's good I'm flying to South Africa in the morning."
The reaction was one of equal disbelief as Payne himself.
He had played little rugby on the wing prior to Saturday night, a few games of under-21 club rugby, but said he went into his Chiefs debut with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.
"I was excited. There's a bit more space to attack and normally you get a bit of ball from kicks and stuff.
"I was a little bit nervous about a few kicks in deep close to the line but it went well, so I was stoked.
"Just as I ran on Straws said 'get in there boy and go hard' so I thought 'right I'll get stuck in'."
Now he has had a taste of it and knows he can foot it he wants to keep going and challenge for a full place in the squad.
"I think watching and growing up as a kid you think it's for super heroes and that but once you get on there it's just guys with two legs and two arms like you and you can compete," Payne said.
- Waikato Times
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