Meet the rangatahi Hurricanes lock who may have never have made it without a life-changing opportunity

Caleb Delany hasn't spent the summer chilling in the sun. Instead, the 23-year-old Ngāti Tuwharetoa uri has been putting in hard yards preparing for this year's Super Rugby Season.

Last year the lock landed a full-time contract with Te Whanganui-a-Tara Hurricanes.

"It was awesome, pretty emotional," Caleb recalls.

And this season - for the first time - he is going to be able to give rugby his all, even though sport has always been an important part of his life.

Caleb grew up in Nelson and reckons most of his childhood was spent at Brightwater Domain. "After school every day I would just go and kick the ball around down the park."

Even after a brief stint representing Aotearoa in the Junior Black Sox Under 19 softball squad for the 2018 World Championships, rugby kept its appeal for Caleb.

"I think [it was] the physicality of rugby. I wanted to take that rather than try and crack softball, which is a bit boring at times."

His sporting abilities impressed many, but it was selectors from a Victoria University Rugby Scholarship, generously funded by the Jack Jeffs Charitable Trust, that kick-started his career, awarding him $45,000 of funding to study and make the move to Wellington.

Victoria University Sport and Recreation associate director Karl Whalen said the year Caleb applied was the first time they gave out the scholarship.

"We wanted somebody who obviously had very clear, high career goals and was preferably coming from out of the city as well. We wanted to give somebody really a real leg up with that scholarship. 

"He was outstanding, as were other applicants for it, but he did stand out in his personal circumstances, You could tell he was a driven young man who was going to succeed." 

Caleb chose to study architecture, a career calling he's had since high school.

"Always been a creative kid, enjoyed drawing, architecture was the one for me," he said.

Meet the rangatahi Hurricanes lock who may have never have made it without a life-changing opportunity
Photo credit: The Hui

Studying and pursuing a rugby career had its challenges. Caleb found he had to sacrifice the normal university student life to get by.

"I needed to play good footy to get to where I wanted to. So yeah, some of my mates would go out three nights a week that I couldn't do that, which did suck."

The sacrifices paid off. Caleb debuted for the Wellington Lions and Hurricanes while also completing his degree. 

Hurricanes head coach Jason Holland has seen Caleb's transformation from a scrawny teenager.

"He's put on a lot of beef upper body, so he's he's got a hell of a lot stronger in the gym which means there is much more impact around anything where he's in a collision tackle, carry, scrum, whatever it might be."

For Caleb, his selection for the Māori All Blacks team against Ireland has been the biggest honour so far

"It was pretty emotional then as well, playing for your culture and your family. It's a pretty big step up. Wanting to make my family and culture proud."

"He's putting his best foot forward. I've got no doubt that he will be a great Hurricane and whatever comes after that," Holland said.

Now that Caleb's completed his degree, he is able to give rugby his all, with the All Black jersey next in his sights. 

"I've got my degree now, so I'm just going to fully knuckle into rugby I reckon.

"If you're good enough, you're going to make it and stick at it. I know it might be hard to get seen in a small town, but just keep training hard and you will be seen eventually."

Made with support from Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air