It has taken three seasons but Duncan Paia'aua has found his feet at the Reds as a formidable playmaking foil for Quade Cooper and his "beautiful footy mind".
The 22-year-old arrived at Ballymore in 2015 after a two-year stint with the Brisbane Broncos U20s and was immediately thrown into the furnace, making his debut against the Brumbies in Canberra in the Reds' Super Rugby season opener.
Despite playing rugby in Rockhampton throughout high school at Emmaus College, it was clear Paia'aua had work to do if he was to convert his talents into consistent performances at Super Rugby level.
The last two years have been spent finding his best position and how he can best help the Reds succeed while playing for Norths and Queensland Country in the NRC.His playmaking abilities have come to the fore since Nick Stiles backed him as a link between Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi, highlighted by a picture perfect grubber to set up one of Eto Nabuli's three tries against the Force in round two.
Now on his second South African trip, Paia'aua said he has never felt more comfortable in the 15-man game.
"Third year into my rugby and I've never felt more comfortable, especially in the number 12 position," he said.
"I've found my spot at 12 and I'm feeling very comfortable and enjoying my rugby."
With Wallabies stars either side of him in Cooper and Kerevi, Paia'aua is thriving on both sides of the ball."Obviously with that kind of experience inside and outside me in Quade, Samu and K (Karmichael Hunt), it makes my job a lot easier and it can only bring the best out of me and it has helped me grow as a player," he said.
"Quade has got a beautiful footy mind so he takes a lot of pressure off me and helps me learn footy and I guess in the way I play, I can take a bit of pressure off him as well.
"I think we gel together very well.
"Personally, I hope I can be my own player in this team of superstars and hopefully flourish."A surprising facet of Paia'aua's game has been his defensive work - showcased by a big hit which left Crusaders inside centre Ryan Crotty winded last Saturday.
If the Reds are to challenge the Lions on Sunday morning (AEDT), Paia'aua and Hunt must continue to act as a blunt force to stop the Elton Jantjies-Rohan Janse van Rensburg 10-12 combination which carved the Waratahs up a fortnight ago.
"K brings a lot of energy in defence and when he rushes up like that I get a bit of a kick out of that and want to do the same thing," Paia'aua said.
"Thorny and Stilesy have done a lot of defensive work with us and our defence and aggression has showed this year."