Ethan Blackadder ticking all the boxes as he continues impressive rise up rugby ranks
The intriguing aspect of Ethan Blackadder's rugby development is that he's still some way from the finished product.
And that's exciting.
The 22-year-old Tasman Makos flanker is imbued with the same rugged edge that characterised his father Todd Blackadder's days with the All Blacks, Crusaders and Canterbury. But he's made it clear from the outset that irrespective of his DNA, he's determined to make his way in the rugby world under his own steam and on his own terms.
So far he's ticked every box.
Blackadder has pulled on the Makos' jersey 13 times now but it's only this season that he's earned a starting role as blindside flanker.
He owed his Makos promotion last year to a season-ending thumb injury to Vern Fredericks and made his debut as a second half substitute against Otago. Now he's starting to forge an effective bond with Fredericks and Jordan Taufua as Tasman's first choice loose trio.
"I'm just grateful for the opportunities I've been given really," Blackadder said. "There's some pretty good loose forwards in the squad and I'm just fortunate enough to be given the jersey on the day."
He's amped about being part of a formidable loose forward unit.
"We've become pretty tight in the last three weeks, we're just trying to build on each game but we feel like we're heading in the right direction. But we'll just keep trying to improve our games and as a loose forward trio."
Blackadder was one of the stars of the Tasman club season as he helped co-lead Nelson to the Nelson Bays championship title. Conspicuously, it was the 7kg he added during the off-season that markedly improved his physical presence on both attack and defence.
He's now playing at 110kg and at 1.92m, cuts a strapping on-field figure. His excellent lineout ability also makes him useful cover at lock.
"I had to do a little bit of physical work in the off-season and just get some size on really. I knew I had a lot of physical development to do and I still have got a lot to do, not just in terms of size, but in strength and what not.
"I feel good at [110kg]. I struggle to put it on during the season to be honest. I've still got a bit of speed work to work on but I'm working on that as we speak."
Blackadder admitted that the step up from club to provincial rugby was significant, both physically and mentally.
"It's just up another cog in a lot of aspects ... but I'm feeling good out there. I'm taking a lot of learnings out of each game really. I'm confident when I'm out there, but I'm just trying to improve all the time because you can never be too comfortable."
He's clearly aware that after three straight two-point victories over Waikato, Wellington and Otago, there was still plenty of room for improvement from the Tasman side. Conversely though, he said that the team had showed plenty of character under extreme pressure to stack up 15 crucial championship points after early losses to Canterbury and Manawatu.
"There's been a lot of guts [shown] over the last three weeks really. We're not closing games obviously like we've been asked to, but the team's showed a lot of guts to get the result in the end, so that's been really pleasing and to get five points out of three close wins hasn't been too bad I suppose.
"But we don't want to keep everyone on their toes like we've been doing. It just shows a lot of character from the guys and they're all putting their hands up."
While Tasman's starting lineup for Sunday's clash with Southland at Trafalgar Park is still to be confirmed, Blackadder said that whoever took the field would not be underestimating the struggling southerners who are the only team in either the premiership or championship yet to secure a competition point.
"You definitely can't take a team like them lightly because they haven't been playing too bad, the first half against Canterbury reflected that - they were quite good there. So we'll be preparing for a good Southland side coming up."
As always, Blackadder takes nothing for granted.
"I'm really enjoying it ... we're very lucky to do what we do and you've just got to appreciate it."