Rookie diary: Rookie first five-eighth is living the dream

Ever since I was a kid playing junior rugby up in North Otago, I dreamed of playing for the Highlanders.

Tony Brown was obviously a bit of a hero - like me, he was a first five, and he came from small town. Then they had Nick Evans, and he was pretty sharp.

It's very special to be here now. I still can't quite believe I'm a Highlander. It's an awesome feeling, and a big responsibility.

It's all happened so quickly. Halfway through the ITM Cup last year, I was wondering what I would do this year. I was thinking about applying for jobs, or looking overseas, or even going home to the farm, up near Kurow. I was really unsure.

Then you get that phone call and it's all on. It's very exciting, and I feel very lucky to be able to play rugby fulltime.

It was a bit of a shock to the system when I came into camp in November. The workload was phenomenal. I've never done anything like it before.

Just getting up to speed with the other guys in the team was a big challenge. In the Highlanders, you have to do everything slightly quicker. It takes some adjusting.

There are obviously some great players in our team. Brad Thorn and Ma'a Nonu are two of the new guys, but they're a little bit more experienced than me.

It can definitely be a bit intimidating when they walk through the door. I just try to listen to what they've got to say. They're in your ear, anyway, giving you advice. And when you get on the field, it's quite comforting to have guys like that helping you out.

Game day is getting close. I've definitely got a few nerves. It almost doesn't seem real just yet. But I'm sure, once we've got through our last trainings and run out on to Forsyth Barr Stadium, it will sink in.

The Chiefs represent a good chance for us to set a benchmark and see where we're at so early in the season. We'd like to give them a good crack.

In terms of personal goals, it's hard setting anything too specific at this stage. If I get an opportunity, I want to take it with both hands.

My parents, Dave and Gert, will be coming down for the game tomorrow night. They're quite excited. Dad is a very staunch Highlanders fan and I think he'll be very proud.

Dad's not big on over-the-top stuff. I reckon he'd just tell me to give it my best shot, and to do my job as well as I possibly can.

That's not bad advice to follow.

- Hayden Parker is in his first year with the Highlanders. The young first five will report regularly throughout the season.

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