Siya Kolisi made his DHL Stormers debut at DHL Newlands in 2012 as a replacement for his childhood hero Schalk Burger and today he will bring up his century of caps when he leads the team out as captain.
Kolisi moved to Cape Town fresh out of school and went to the Western Province Rugby Institute (WPRI), along with the likes of then-roommate Scarra Ntubeni, Nizaam Carr, Eben Etzebeth and Frans Malherbe.
Back then his potential was clear to see, having impressed as a schoolboy talent who played for SA Schools, but there would not have been many people who could have predicted that he would play in his 100th Vodacom Super Rugby game by the age of just 26.
The growth that Kolisi has undergone, both on and off the field, in his eight years since moving to the Cape has been immense.
On the field he leads the way through his uncompromising commitment to the cause, while off the field he is a family man who has become an inspiration to many thanks to his friendly nature and strong values.
Looking back on those early days at the WPRI, Kolisi admits that it is surreal to be leading the DHL Stormers with some of his oldest and closest friends around him.
“It is one of thise things that you never think or dream of.
“I don’t think we ever thought that we would get to where we are. We have seen most of our age-group fall off, but we formed a group that wanted to be together and win together.
“Eben [Etzebeth], Scarra [Ntubeni], Frans [Malherbe], Nizaam [Carr], Damian [De Allende] and Kitsie [Steven Kitshoff], we have stuck together throughout all these years and they have impacted my life in such a strong way,” he says.
There was plenty of hard work put in at the WPRI that year, which Kolisi believes played a crucial role in him making the step up to professional rugby so quickly.
“To be honest going to the Institute changed my career, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. It is tough and tests you mentally. I wasn’t much of a tackler at the time, I was known mainly as a ball-carrier, but when we got there we played contact every day and went flat-out. It made me grow as a player,” he says.
Just two years later he was on the replacements bench at DHL Newlands for the DHL Stormers’ opening game of the season against the Hurricanes.
When the talismanic Burger went down with a knee injury which would effectively rule him out for more than two years, Kolisi was called on to join the fray for the first time.
“It was both a sad and a happy moment for me, it wasn’t good to see him [Burger] go down like that and then he was out for so long after that.
“When they called me to get up after about five minutes I was on with guys like Andries Bekker, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana and Eben Etzebeth my mate, so I had nothing to fear.
“It was packed at DHL Newlands that day and I scored my first try, it was as if everything was set out for me to do well, so I took the opportunity,” Kolisi recalls.
In his first season the DHL Stormers topped the log and Kolisi was able to grow by playing alongside some established internationals.
“Being the young kid, everyone wants to run at you, so I always had to be on my toes. The guys around me made me feel so comfortable and empowered, so I felt like I could play my part in that team and I learned a lot.
“Bryan Habana took me under his wing, whenever the team needed anything he was there. Jean de Villiers as well, I have looked up to him as a leader and obviously Schalk ever since I was a kid. To be playing with him was ridiculous, who ever thought that would happen,” says Kolisi.
Kolisi is the latest in a long line of players to reach 100 caps for the DHL Stormers without ever playing for another team, which he puts down to the loyalty of both the players and supporters to the union.
“I think it is the people we are, the vibe we create and how diverse we are as well. You can be yourself, within the team culture you are allowed to express yourself. The people here are very loyal as well, we have the most amazing supporters who are very loyal to us, which is why they are called the DHL Newlands Faithful,” he says.
Now Kolisi finds himself in that role of mentor and inspiration, which is something he takes seriously.
“Thinking back to my first game I would never have thought I would get here, but now obviously having kids and being married I want to be a role model. I want my son to look at me and say ‘I want to be like my dad one day’.
“I am excited, but mostly I am grateful, for my teammates and all of the guys that have helped me through, the guys that have played with me and before me, I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for them.
“I want everyone to know, whoever they are, because I play for everybody, not just one group of people, that you can make it as long as you put your mind to it and have the right people around you,” he says.
One of the key factors in Kolisi’s success has been the role played by his wife Rachel annd their young family.
“My family is why I am where I am and I am the type of man that I am today. If I wasn’t married I don’t know where I would be, without my wife’s support I wouldn’t be here. She is the rock of the family.
“Being married and having kids has had a huge impact on me being a leader and the way I carry myself,” he reveals.
While he already has a century of caps to his name, Kolisi has plenty of rugby still to play in front of the passionate and diverse DHL Newlands Faithful.
“I am looking forward to many more games, I am 26, so who knows how many games I can play.
“All sorts of people come to watch rugby at DHL Newlands, that is why I love playing here. No matter who it is, we inspire them somehow and they really believe in us. We really appreciate every person, no matter who you are it means a lot to us,” Kolisi adds.