Nearly 12 months to the day, Len Ikitau was watching from the sidelines as the Brumbies lifted the Super Rugby AU title. Now, he looms as a key piece of their future and the Wallabies with a fresh contract in hand.
Ikitau has exploded onto the scene after a two-try showing against South Africa last Saturday, no longer the unheralded bolter.
The 22-year-old has been quickly locked into a contract extension by the Brumbies and Rugby Australia until the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
After breakout performances during the Rugby Championship, Ikitau was quick to deflect praise when speaking to media on Tuesday.
“I scored two tries but they were team tries, I guess I was just there in the right place,” Ikitau said on Tuesday.
“I feel like I’m trying to get better each week and improve my game. Everyone’s trying to push forward and be better to make the team better. There’s no one besides ‘Hoops’ who have their position cemented.”
Statements like this reflect the shy nature of the centre, who admitted his initial call up last year took him by complete surprise.
Given his lack of Super Rugby experience at the time, it's easy to see why having played minimal minutes for the Brumbies.
However, 12 months on, Ikitau believes he has grown into the role and is more settled into a Wallabies side building confidence.
“When Dave messaged me last year, I thought someone was taking the piss and lying," he admitted.
“When I was in the squad, I was too shy or didn’t want to speak to anyone, kept to myself and I guess a year later it’s different, I’m much more confident in myself and my ability so I'm just happy to be in the squad again.”
It helps this year having good mate Darcy Swain by his side.
The pair have come through the system together since their time at school at Brisbane Boys College, with Swain helping to bring the physical centre down to Canberra.
“He had a big left foot step and two massive shoulders,” Swain said when asked about his first thoughts on Ikitau.
“I remember he came out of school for his first session down in (Tuggeranong) Vikings and the man was benching 140 for eight, it was ridiculous for an 18-year-old, I can’t even do 120kgs for one now.
“He’s a big unit so his physicality, he’s one of the most physical centres in the game, and on top of that he's elusive with great skills and he’s always had that from a young age, he’s just gotten better.”
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Whilst the achievement of playing together for the Wallabies hadn't sunk in yet, Ikitau credited Swain for supporting and convincing him to stay in the nation's capital during the tough times.
“We went to the same school in Brisbane and we haven’t had the chance to look back on it, but I know when we get time off, it’ll be something we look back on with pride,” he added.
"There was a couple of times I just wanted to go home and he kind of stopped me from doing that, so I'm just thankful for having Darcy there.”