Six months ago, Justin Sangster was playing club rugby and working for Mainfreight in Tauranga.
Now he is a Super Rugby player.
On Thursday morning, the 23-year-old took time off work to travel down to Wellington to meet his new team-mates after signing a contract with the Hurricanes for next year’s Super Rugby Pacific competition.
The 1.98m lock was first approached by the Hurricanes after playing just three games for Bay of Plenty, who had only signed him on a development deal, and Sangster said he was still coming to terms with his rapid rise as he rubbed shoulders with the likes of former All Black Julian Savea at Rugby League Park.
“I got a call from Gibbo [assistant coach Chris Gibbes] after my third game and he wanted to have a catch-up,” says Sangster.
“We went out for a coffee and had a chat about where I was and where I wanted to be, and it went from there.
“I didn’t really believe it when he rang me up. I was shocked.
“But it’s been awesome. Everyone has been really welcoming, the staff and all the players.”
Justin Sangster getting over the line. Photo. Rick Moran.
He joined Scott Scrafton and James Blackwell, and fellow new Hurricanes Dominic Bird and Caleb Delany, as the locks in the squad named this week. Isaia Walker-Leawere is on the long-term injured list.
Sangster was a latecomer to rugby. He did not play as a junior and only picked up the sport when he was a year 12 student at Aquinas College, the former secondary school of New Zealand sprinter Joseph Millar.
He said his main sports back then were basketball, swimming and taekwondo, which he was a black belt in.
“Mum wasn’t too keen on the rugby-side of things. She was worried about me getting injured,” he says.
Sangster was good enough to get selected for the Waikato under-19s in his first year out of secondary school but the dream of playing rugby for a living only really started when he moved back home to Tauranga after graduating from the University of Waikato and got his foot in the door with Bay of Plenty.
He was signed on a development contract at the start of the NPC season but finished as a starting player.
Prior to his Bay of Plenty debut, Sangster said his aim was to make his way up the ladder at Mainfreight.
He started out as a forklift driver – now he is determined to reach new heights as a rugby player.
“I started the year as injury cover and it all happened at once this year but I’m really grateful for the opportunity.
“I was just happy to be part of the Bay set-up. Growing up in Tauranga it was always a goal to be part of the Steamers and to get that was awesome, and to get this now is even more unbelievable.
“I had a life plan but that’s obviously changed a bit now.
“I was going to try to make my way up the Mainfreight ladder because it’s a bloody good company to work for, but this has changed things now, and I’d [be] keen to stick with footy for as long as I can and make the most of it and enjoy the opportunities.”