Coming home to New Zealand was always Kiwi league superstar Adam Blair's biggest dream.
But after 16 years in Australia chasing greatness on the field, the Whangarei-born athlete had resigned himself to the fact he'd never return to his roots – until everything changed with one surprise phone call.
After receiving an SOS from the New Zealand Warriors after a dismal 2017 season, Adam, 32, his wife, nutritionist and naturopath Jess, and their two sons, Harlem, seven, and 20-month-old Taika, packed up their entire lives and left their Brisbane base. And as it turns out, it was the best decision Adam and Jess have ever made.
Speaking to Woman's Day following the Warriors' most successful season in seven years and with Adam resuming international duties with the Kiwis, the couple say living in Auckland has been a highlight, despite some initial doubts from Jess, 32.
"I didn't want to move in the beginning," she admits.
"You don't hear too much about the Warriors in Australia, so I didn't know anything about the club. It took me a couple of months to get my head around it. I had my business, Harlem was at school, and we had our friends and family. But as soon as Adam signed, I was all in."
Shifting to suburban Auckland at the beginning of the year meant a new house, a new community, and a new way of life for the pair and their gorgeous boys.
But with one season down and a Kiwi summer looming, the Blair clan are more than happy with their lot, especially Adam, who is stoked at how "Kiwi" Harlem and Taika – who is named after Thor director Taika Waititi – have become.
"We bumped into Taika when Jess was pregnant and because we thought he'd be growing up in Australia, we thought it would be a great name. I really wanted a Maori name and we needed one that Australians could pronounce!
"They're speaking pretty good Maori now and Jess is trying to learn too. I used to speak a little of it to Harlem in Australia, but now they're surrounded by it every day at school and kindy. It makes me so happy to hear it."
"Taika's saying everything in Maori at the moment," Jess tells. "And Harlem told me the other day that he's forgotten the Australian anthem now – he only knows the New Zealand one."
"Yes!" a jubilant Adam exclaims. Showing his family where he hails from has been one of Adam's greatest joys, with the chuffed dad all too happy to play tour guide, taking them to the family farm in the far north and the slopes down south.
"I thought it would be really nice to get my family to understand my culture," he tells. "We have so much to offer here, and I wanted them to see it and to explore places we've never been. We had our first snow holiday in Queenstown. The kids learnt how to ski in an hour."
Jess chimes in, "Adam couldn't do it, though. I said to him, if he falls over, we'd have to go home!"
While there's been lots of exploring beaches and farmers' markets, the move across the Tasman has also proved to be very lucrative for Jess. Her business Wellness by Blair has taken off, especially on social media.
"I'm busier here than I was in Brisbane!" she laughs. "I decided that when I came here, I'd just focus on what I wanted to do and whatever happened would happen. So I've done a lot more public speaking and corporate health, and I'm writing a book. I'm also at uni studying health promotion, which I love."
"I don't get to see her any more," Adam says, smiling proudly at his wife. "We used to have our days off together, but she's so busy!"
And Jess has achieved a rare feat, with many of the organisations and media outlets she's worked with only too happy to claim her as our own.
"Everyone's embraced me as a Kiwi," she tells. "It's been so nice. I actually can't believe how great and lovely people have been. I didn't expect it – it's amazing."
Suffice to say, it's been a wonderful year for the pair, who first met in Melbourne 11 years ago, when Adam spotted Jess in a hotel lobby.
"And we're still going strong today," he laughs.
"It's been an amazing time. We've lived in so many different places now – Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and now here.
"I'm just so thankful we were given this opportunity and that my kids sing the Kiwi anthem now!"