All Blacks: Karl Tu'inukuafe finds cult-hero status a comfortable fit

This time last year, Karl Tu'inukuafe was warming the bench for North Harbour in the Mitre 10 Cup, but fast forward a year and the 25-year-old's life is quite different.

The cult hero is relishing the added perks of becoming an All Black, after nearly losing control of his life last year.

If you had asked him then if he'd be the face of a men's fashion label, he'd have laughed you out of the room. Such has been the prop's meteoric rise, this now comes with the territory.

"I was mostly just being at bars and clubs and stuff, and just living day to day and not looking too much about the future so," he told Newshub. "To look back now, it's definitely a huge shift."

Tu'inukuafe is the perfect fit for fashion brand Johnny Bigg. Not long ago, finding clothes for his then-170kg frame was almost impossible.

"I was at least a 5XL," he said. "I like it a bit loose, so maybe even a 6XL, if there was such a thing.

"It's good to be in sizes under 4XL now."

The big grin, the moustache and the emotional anthem... Tu'inukuafe's quickly become an All Blacks fan favourite - not that he's noticed the extra attention.

"Even with the ABs, no-one makes too much fuss, unless you're the big dogs like Beauden Barrett or Rieko Ioane or something."

But away from his newfound fame, Tu'inukuafe's focus turns to the heavyweight scrummagers of the Northern Hemisphere and his next All Blacks assignment.

"It'll definitely be a physical battle up front," he said. "I always like to see what the best is like and step up to the plate, if I get the chance."

Karl Tu'inukuafe is making an habit of stepping up these past 12 months, both on and off the field.