Lima Sopoaga has shown his intent to be the man to replace Dan Carter as All Blacks five-eighth by extending his New Zealand Rugby contract.
Sopoaga announced on Tuesday he will stay with the Highlanders until 2018, having previously signed for the Super Rugby champions through to the end of next year.
The 24-year-old shone for the Highlanders this year and stood out in his Test debut, scoring 12 points in an influential display as the All Blacks beat South Africa 27-20 in Johannesburg.
It wasn’t enough to earn another cap but he will be a strong contender to fill the gap left by the departing Carter from next year. Other candidates to wear the Test No.10 jumper are Chiefs playmaker Aaron Cruden and Hurricanes utility Beauden Barrett.
Sopoaga paid tribute to the Highlanders coaching staff and management, who have shown patience with him in previous seasons, allowing him time to flourish.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph expects Sopoaga to improve more in 2016.
“Lima has worked really hard in the past few seasons to develop his game, he has grown into a skilful first five.
“What’s more exciting is that I don’t think he has achieved his full potential yet and is only going to get better.”
Sopoaga’s 49 Highlanders games have yielded 453 points, leaving him second on their all-time list behind their former All Blacks No.10 Tony Brown.