New All Black Matt Duffie gets reward for effort

Getty Images

Lynn McConnell     23 Oct 2017     Getty Images

Duffie, 27, the Blues and North Harbour wing-fullback, was one of four new caps named to make the tour on Monday. 

He is the country's latest triple international having been a member of New Zealand's Australian Rules Football team at age 16, and a member of the New Zealand Kiwis league team for the 2011 Test against Australia while playing for the Melbourne Storm in the NRL.

Duffie said he never thought he had a chance of selection but a lot of people had suggested to him that he would go close, so he felt he needed to watch and find out, which he and his partner did and when they heard his name they 'ended up jumping around the lounge room'.

However, there is a cost. A planned excursion to Rarotonga with old school friends [he attended Saint Kentigern College in Auckland] and an end-of-season trip to New York with his partner have had to be put on hold for him to make the tour.

"It's awesome, it's one of those things that you never really think is going to happen and you're lucky enough that it does and I'm very excited for the next month and what that holds," he said.

"It's nice for me but it's also nice for all the people who helped me along the way and who put in a lot of hard work to get me back on the field and get me playing well. And also the people that kept faith in me when I was injured.

"[Storm coach] Craig Bellamy threw me a lifeline when I was injured, he gave me another year on my contract. If he didn't do that I don't know where I would be," he said.

He experienced a horror run of injuries involving his four shoulder operations, two on each side, two ACL injuries, one involving one operation the other, eight months later, requiring three bouts of surgery to get right.

"It was after that second ACL that I didn't really know whether I would be back on the field. The first time I started running after that I was terrible," he said.

His return to rugby from a 61-game five-season stint with the Melbourne Storm in the NRL was not driven by one thing, but by several happenings.

"I never thought it would happen but I guess the more I talked about it the more I started to like the idea and when Tana [Umaga] was appointed Blues coach that was the catalyst that 'yes', I really trusted that I would be in good hands by going to the Blues," he said.

It hadn't been the easiest transition with the Blues remaining unfulfilled but success with the side is something that is still driving him and he wants them to be successful.

Returning to rugby he worked on the basis of getting better each day while learning, and the exciting thing about making the All Blacks tour was the fact he would get to learn from the best in an environment which historically had churned out great players.

At the team announcement selector Ian Foster paid tribute to Duffie's work ethic and his study of the game, but Duffie admitted that was something he had struggled with returning to rugby.

"I wasn't very good at video analysis and that's something that I've still got to work on. At the Storm all of that was done for us but when I got back to New Zealand rugby it's all player driven. It's got to be and I really like that idea," he said.

At the same time as coming to grips with the video analysis he was trying to cope with learning the game and knowing what he should be looking for.

"[Blues centre] George Moala does a lot of analysis stuff, especially defensively, and when I first got there I thought 'Wow!' he was really good at it. Our analysis guy Troy Webber has been awesome for me in teaching me how to cut clips and what to look for and giving me stats along the way. There's been a few people help me," he said.

His liaison with North Harbour had also been beneficial. After starting to show his potential near the end of his first Super season he went to North Harbour where coach Steve Jackson told him he needed to relax more and start enjoying himself.

He admitted that he had felt the pressure of his move from league, especially in the wake of Benji Marshall's failed effort with the Blues.

But when finding that enjoyment in an accommodating environment in Albany he discovered better form which allowed him to move into the 2018 pre-season and Super season more confidently.

His acceptance hadn't been helped in his Blues debut against the Crusaders at AMI Stadium by the now-infamous Nemani Nadolo brush-off when Duffie attempted to tackle him.

It had been hard to take because it had been so public and he had gone on to have a bad night.

"That was when the pressure really started to come on with all the comment that 'he's going to be another failed league convert blah, blah, blah'. That was quite hard to handle at first but I guess the good thing about rugby and rugby teams is that the players around you will always get into you about stuff like that and I started to laugh about it," he said.

If anyone is ever struggling he can point to not much being worse than the experience of being rubbed off by Nadolo in a debut game.

Duffie said it was one of those pieces of adversity that motivated him to get better.

Now that effort, perseverance and drive had brought its own reward, All Blacks selection and the promise of what that could mean for his future in the game. It's the best way of forgetting about the tough times on the ascent.