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Whitelock was seen as steady if not spectacular. A reliable player but not with much glamour.
But his stocks have risen over the past three seasons and he is now one of the first chosen.
Fresh from a week off, the 27-year-old No 8 is ready to head into battle against the Waratahs in Sydney tonight.
"It was great to have a week off. Just a good chance to get some time off and get some rehab in. Get some training in at a higher level and freshen up mentally," he said.
"Touch wood the body is good. You never get the chance to stop. You go from a test window to local derbies and it is pretty intense."
Whitelock is in a loose forward trio with Liam Squire and James Lentjes with All Blacks Elliot Dixon and Shannon Frizell on the bench.
"It’s always been very competitive since coming down to the Highlanders. That’s only a healthy thing. You’ve got to be at top of your game for a chance to run out there. We have great loose forwards, every spot is highly competitive."
That competition should bring out the best in everybody.
In tonight’s game the Highlanders will have to be at their best and Whitelock is looking forward to it.
"At the end of the day you can only control yourself. We can control what we do. We’ve just got to give ourselves the best chance. This is why you play the game and we’ve given ourselves a chance at this stage of the season.
"You have done all the work. Everyone is good players and that. You just have to go out there and trust your plans, trust your processes. It is little moments. It is going to be tense and come down to one or two things."
There are just six players in tonight’s starting side who also started the playoff game at Sydney in 2015.Ben and Aaron Smith, Waisake Naholo, Lima Sopoaga, James Lentjes and Liam Coltman started that night.
Gone from that side are: Patrick Osborne (Japan), Malakai Fekitoa (France), Richard Buckman (injured), Nasi Manu (Italy), Elliot Dixon (reserves), Mark Reddish (retired), Alex Ainley (injured), Josh Hohneck (England) and Brendon Edmonds (injured).