One person, more than any other, stood smiling and shaking his head in wonderment, agog at what he was seeing. Just trying to take it all in.
In that moment he couldn’t help but have a then and now experience.
That person was Chanel Harris-Tavita.
Then was going back a little more than 12 months to the night of September 3, 2022.
A gruelling season had ended for the One New Zealand Warriors with a shattering 26-27 golden point loss to the Gold Coast Titans at a damp Mount Smart Stadium. The post-game atmosphere was funereal.
Palpably sad, too, because it was the 23-year-old Harris-Tavita’s 54th and farewell appearance after he had announced his decision in May to step aside from the NRL.
Now was the night of September 16, 2023.
Harris-Tavita was in the gym, a workplace transformed into party central, heaving with joy-fuelled people who had just seen the One New Zealand Warriors sublimely dismiss Newcastle 40-10 to book a spot in NRL preliminary finals for the first time since 2011.
No one had a better grasp of the before and after than Harris-Tavita.
He couldn’t stop smiling that heady night not much more than two months ago. And he hasn’t stopped smiling since returning to the club to begin a preseason campaign which wasn't the remotest possibility this time last year.
“I’ve always walked into the club with a smile but it just feels different this time,” he said in his first interview with warriors.kiwi since hitting the training field last week.
“I was watching from afar and thought: ‘I want to be part of that. If I can get the opportunity to go back and build on what they’re building, then I’d take it.’
“I feel like I’m in a good spot today. I don’t want to look too far back or too far ahead. I’m just here and I’m ready to enjoy it.”
It was in May this year that Harris-Tavita’s comeback was revealed.
Following that ill-fated night in September last year, he went on to represent Toa Samoa at the Rugby League World Cup in England where he helped the island nation to its historic appearance in the final against the Kangaroos at Old Trafford (when he started at hooker).
Travel and just getting lost in life were on his programme after that including a stint in Samoa where he worked on a family farm.
It gave him a new perspective while also refreshing him for another shot at the NRL with the club where it all started with his NRL debut in 2019.
“I’m lucky I was in that position to be able to walk away. It’s something I don’t regret,” says Harris-Tavita.
“I’m also pretty blessed to be given this opportunity to be able to come back to the club especially where they’re at at the moment.”