Chase Tiatia has always been a standout player for whatever team he has ended up at.
After leaving school in 2013, the talented fullback was named as Wellington’s most promising player of 2014, prior to his shift to Bay of Plenty a year later.
He has starred at domestic level for the Steamers in recent seasons, with his lightning footwork and top-end agility setting him apart from an array of other outside backs in the Mitre 10 Cup, and it was enough to earn him a deal with the Chiefs in 2016.
However, despite being handed his first Super Rugby contract three years ago, Tiatia only made his debut at that level a few weeks ago for the Hurricanes in their 43-13 thumping of the Brumbies in Palmerston North.
So, how did someone with so much potential have to wait so long for his first crack in Super Rugby?
“I broke my ankle, I fractured the top of my fibula, I tore the ligaments in my elbow,” the 23-year-old told Stuff.
“Tore a few cartilage in my ribs. I think that’s about all.”
A wretched run of injuries has limited Tiatia’s chances above domestic level, with his solitary appearance during his two-year stay with the Chiefs coming from off the bench in their hefty 34-6 defeat to the British and Irish Lions in 2017.
He was released by incoming head coach Colin Cooper ahead of the 2018 campaign, and was limited to an injury cover contract with the Hurricanes last year.
Left to toil away at grassroots level with the Hutt Old Boys Marist club in Wellington, Tiatia was “quite disappointed” to receive the same deal with the Hurricanes this year after a particularly stellar Mitre 10 Cup campaign with Bay of Plenty.
Fortunes began to turn his way, though, with injuries to outside back Nehe Milner-Skudder and veteran first-five/fullback James Marshall freeing enough room within the squad for Tiatia to earn some game time.
His sensational outing against the Brumbies has been enough to see him retain his spot at fullback in consecutive matches against the Highlanders and Chiefs, and this weekend, he will start his fourth match in a row against the Stormers at Westpac Stadium.
“It’s been sort of a long road for me,” Tiatia said.
“A few years of setbacks, so I just thought I’d go out and there and take my opportunity and just give it my all. I thought I did that in the first game and they gave me a shot for the second.”
After a prolonged stint on the sidelines and multiple contract rejections from the Chiefs and Hurricanes, Tiatia admits that doubt crept into his mind as to whether he would ever make it in Super Rugby after starting his career as a highly-touted prospect.
“You always do [doubt yourself], especially when you’ve just got injured and returning to play is so far away.
“My ankle took me seven months to be able to get back on the rugby field, so in those first three months, you sort of lose sight of it all, but then you surround yourself with good people and good company and they sort of help you through your journey.”
It is a journey of which he will look to ride for as long as possible before the impending returns of Milner-Skudder and Marshall later this season.
While the duo will undoubtedly feature for the Hurricanes upon their return from injury, the form and versatility of Tiatia – who can also play first-five and wing – may be too much for head coach John Plumtree to let go.
It is a decision of which that will be made in the future, but for now, Tiatia is looking to soak up as much knowledge as possible from his more experienced teammates who form the Hurricanes’ star-studded backline.
“I’ve been training here for a year and a half now, but actually going out on the field and playing with those guys, I’ve learned so much in these last three weeks.
“It’s unbelievable the way they see the game and the way they communicate things. It’s just mind blowing.”
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