Ukuma Ta'ai initially declined an invitation to train with the Warriors. He was a shy, young Tongan whose English was average, to say the least.
"It was quite scary for a really fresh, Island boy," says Mt Albert Lions coach Brent Gemmell.
So Gemmell picked the second-rower up from his place in south Auckland one Tuesday afternoon and drove him to Mt Smart Stadium.
He wasn't going to see a player pass up such an opportunity and certainly not a player with as much potential as he thought Ta'ai possessed.
In the end it was scary how quickly Warriors staff realised how good Ta'ai might be. The 22-year-old had barely played 25 games of rugby league and, while he was a little raw, there was little doubt he could play.
In just one training session, the Warriors virtually made up their minds and signed him to a two-year deal with an option for a third.
"We brought him into training and, just looking at him, you could see he was a good specimen," Warriors coach Ivan Cleary says.
"He was naturally fit, which is a big plus because you don't have to start from scratch there.
"He didn't have much English but we saw enough in him to take him on. Just seeing him play, he was a standout. He was raw but he's got a naturally good feel for the game. He was also an unknown quantity and you can do worse than give the kid a chance."
The Warriors have certainly done that. Today's match against the Bulldogs will be his ninth NRL game and third start.
Initially, it was hard to see why the Warriors had been so excited about him as he produced a series of error-ridden performances in his first four games early in the year.
But he returned to the Auckland Vulcans, where he reminded everyone of what he could do and, on his return to the NRL side over the past month, has shown he belongs in the NRL.
Some of the touches he produced against the Raiders last weekend, like the stunning offload for Lance Hohaia's try, were impressive. He received the ball under pressure from two Canberra defenders but popped a perfect no-look pass for Hohaia to score.
It was like the Warriors of old.
The present regime have relied too heavily on three very similar back-rowers in Simon Mannering, Jacob Lillyman and Micheal Luck. They are all hard-working, no-mistakes players and every team needs one or two. But not three.
Ta'ai doesn't fit that mould. That's a good thing.
"He was a prolific try-scorer for us," Gemmell says. "He could could step off either foot, push guys off and accelerate. He was a physical athlete but it wasn't just brutality. He had great feet, a great fend and a good pass.
"At Fox Memorial level, he was a standout from the moment he went on the field. Within about three or four weeks he was someone who was obviously far above the calibre of people playing in that grade."
It was little surprise when he was named 2008 Fox Memorial Player of the Year.
UKUMA TA'AI was a rugby union player.
A pretty good one, too.
He played for Tonga before he came to New Zealand in 2007 on a school visa and played for the University club as a powerful flanker or No 8.
He was soon selected for Auckland under-20s and had designs on making Auckland Bs.
But he needed to find work to support his family so he took up a job at the Clevedon Fields meatworks in East Tamaki. It wasn't long before the factory foreman declared, tongue in cheek, that people who worked there weren't allowed to play rugby union.
Wanting to fit in, Ta'ai acquiesced and accompanied Sione Pouha, a Mt Albert stalwart, to pre-season training. That was early in 2008.
By the end of the year he had signed with the Warriors. Manly had also been interested and were on their way to see Ta'ai play when the Warriors moved.
"Manly were definitely a threat," Gemmell says. "They watch us regularly and a player from our side went there last year. Would he have made it there? I think it would have been tough for Ukuma without family around him. The Warriors environment has definitely helped him."
Not only has the club put him through English lessons but they have also schooled him on the finer points of the game.
"My first game [against Manly], the level was too fast," Ta'ai says quietly. "I feel better now. I feel comfortable and my natural game is starting to come out."
He's been compared to fellow Tongan and former Warriors second-rower Epalahame Lauaki. He's a similar size - Ta'ai is 3cm taller but 6kg lighter - but appears to have a wider range of skills than Lauaki. He's more nimble on his feet, seems to make better decisions and has a better passing game.
It's still early in Ta'ai's career, too early to suggest he has arrived and will become a star of the NRL. But the tools seem to be there.
"He's got pretty much everything you want in a backrower," Cleary says. "He's got size, strength, vision and he can pass, offload and tackle pretty hard.
"All the rest is up to him and how much he applies himself. It's pretty exciting. I'm pretty excited because he's come a long way pretty quickly."
Age: 22. Height: 187cm.
Weight: 103 kg.
NRL games: 8 (debut vs Manly round 2 2009).
* Ta'ai played only home games for the Auckland Vulcans last year because of immigration problems. He is now a New Zealand resident.