All Blacks: Dalton Papali'i staying humble despite meteoric rugby rise

All Black bolter Dalton Papali'i is remaining humble despite his express rise through New Zealand's rugby ranks.

The 21-year-old hadn't played a minute of Super Rugby 12 months ago, but after a strong debut season with a struggling Blues side and a stellar campaign with the Auckland Mitre 10 Cup team, Papali'i was named in the 32-man squad for the northern tour on Monday.

The former St Kentigern College first XV standout benefited from injuries to loose forward duo Shannon Frizell and Sam Cane, but coach Steve Hansen said Papali'i was on their radar as early as June.

Papali'i had no inkling that his name was on Hansen's list, so his selection came as a huge surprise, but he plans on staying grounded and soak it all in.

"Not going to be up myself (laughs)," Papali'i said. "I'll still be the same person - nothing changes."

"I didn't see this coming at all. I saw a few things around on social media and all that but nothing from anyone official.

"Right now I am in shock and just trying to take everything as it comes.

"This wasn't my goal this year. It was all about improving myself as a player so getting the ABs call-up is pretty special."

Growing up a self-admitted NRL fan, the All Black dream for the Auckland native didn't develop until high school when he cracked the top level of college rugby, eventually making national age group sides.

Papali'i moulded his play on one of the greatest Springboks of the modern era, but it was a rugby league enforcer that inspired his combative, physical style of play.

"My whole family was involved in Rugby League but I got the opportunity to go to St Kent's and went through the rugby grades there - signed with Auckland after school and here I am," Papali'i said.

"I looked up to Gordon Tallis from the Brisbane Broncos. I loved the way he played. He was a hard man of the game and no one mucked around with him because he was just so dominant. 

"From a rugby side of things, I would probably say Schalk Burger. 

"He had those same qualities as Tallis - that tough personality and that's what I pride myself on. I try to be tough and it's worked pretty well so far."

All Blacks: Dalton Papali'i staying humble despite meteoric rugby rise
All Blacks: Dalton Papali'i staying humble despite meteoric rugby rise

The 1.93cm powerhouse admits to having doubts earlier this year when he found himself in a Blues jersey after a shocking injury toll decimated Tana Umaga's loose forward stocks.

But a breakout performance against the Waratahs changed everything.

"The level that the All Blacks play at you always going to question yourself if you can reach that level but I think this year I have really gained a lot of experience. 

"My time with the Blues, even though we didn't go so well, playing against some quality international players like Michael Hooper and Israel Folau, it dawns on you quickly that you can play against them.

"I gained confidence through that but at the same time, this is the All Blacks. This is the best of the best."

As is the case when anyone makes it into the All Blacks, it's a special occasion for not only the player but also the family and that's no different for Papali'i.

"They were in awe, mum was crying and dad was super proud," he said.

"They were just shocked, the same as me, they didn't know what to do."

All Blacks: Dalton Papali'i staying humble despite meteoric rugby rise

Papali'i has played a big role in Auckland's tremendous run in the Mitre 10 Cup which resulted in the blue and white hoops topping the Premiership table with one solitary loss all season.

A huge semi-final against Wellington awaits on Saturday, although the versatile loose-forward is unsure if he will be released to play.

The selectors confirmed all players in the main touring squad of 32 are unlikely to be available for finals a week later, but it remains unclear if the likes of Dane Coles, Joe Moody and Papali'i will be cleared to take part in the final four.

Papali'i is hopeful he will have a chance to repay Auckland's coaching staff who have helped him develop at such a rapid rate.

Alama Ieremia, Filo Tiatia and Sir Graham Henry have turned Auckland from the brink of relegation a year ago into a side two wins from being the best in the country. 

"I would love to be a part of this until the very end but it's not like every day you get a call-up to the All Blacks," Papali'i noted.

"They (Ieremia, Tiatia and Henry) are all guys with a heap of knowledge who have been there and done that at the highest level. 

"Learning off them, you don't really second guess their advice - you just shut you and listen because there is nothing they don't know.

"I'm grateful for this opportunity but at the same time I'm a bit sad that I could be leaving the boys for such a big game against Wellington."

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