Two weeks before the tournament he was informed he hadn’t been selected in their final roster.
On Saturday, he was named Sir John Graham Player of the Tournament - the lock forward a member of the New Zealand Barbarians side who won all three matches.
“I was shocked. I know the quality of players in the tournament is very high,” Cahill said.
“It was a very tough decision between a lot of people. The likes of Tama Kamaea (Chiefs), and Noah Hotham (Highlanders) are real class. There were a number of boys who played well in our team.
“I was disappointed to miss the Crusaders. I didn’t think I’d be going to the tournament, but the way I saw it, was that everyone had worked hard, everyone was worthy.”
Cahill was offered a Barbarians lifeline on May 16. The team assembled a few days later and only had two training sessions before their first match against the Highlanders on May 28.
“The coaches did a good job of getting us connected right away, reminding us we were good enough to be here,” Cahill acclaimed.
“Steve Jackson, or ‘Jacko’ as we call him, is an amazing guy with a heart of gold; super funny. He earned everyone’s respect instantly and gave us the confidence and belief to express ourselves.
“After the first practice Jacko asked us ‘what stupid ideas do you have that might work?’ Nikora Broughton suggested kicking the ball behind his head from a tap. We tried it and it failed. In the game against the Highlanders we scored a try.”
Down at halftime against the Highlanders, the Barbarians stormed home to win 43-24.
“Another idea we had was towers. That is lifting two players in the lineout at the same time on our ball. What was the worst thing that could have happened? A laugh?”
The Crusaders were no laughing matter. In windy conditions, the Barbarians edged a tight tussle 17-15. Cahill was sturdy in his toil.
“I think mindset is my biggest strength. I get involved in the game with a high work rate and understand my own role and that of my teammates.
“It was good to get one over the team I missed out on, but personally the most enjoyable game was the last one against the Hurricanes. We’d started to gel together and play with even more trust and confidence.
“The older boys made our environment more competitive. They added value to the tournament. None of the six teams were easy beats.”
The Barbarians had some players in their squad who were 21 years old.
Born in Christchurch, Cahill is the the middle of three siblings. His family spent five years in Brisbane before returning to Christchurch. Cahill was educated at Shirley Boys’ High School where in Year 11 and 12 he was named all-around athlete of the year, a member of the premier volleyball, water polo and rugby teams.
In Year 13 he decided to board at Hamilton Boys’ High School. He helped the First XV win their 14th Super 8 title since 2006, upsetting Hastings Boys’ High School 12-10 away from home in the final.
“I wanted a new challenge, to thrive in another environment outside of my comfort zone with new people.
“There is a deeply ingrained culture of an extremely high work ethic at Hamilton Boys.’ Nothing but your best is acceptable. I learnt that swiftly on that first day.
“We dropped a couple of games in Super 8 but managed to get the job done in the end. Nigel Hotham and Greg Kirkham are legendary coaches.
“I met my best friend Sam Nelson in Hamilton. His family hosted me on weekend's so I wasn’t boarding the whole time. Sam broke his foot seriously in a go-kart crash and missed a year of sport. He was our biggest supporter.”
Cahill is studying sports coaching at the University of Canterbury. He admitted he had some reading to do about DJ Graham, a former All Black captain and leading educator, but admitted DJ sounded like, “a real champ.”
DJ Graham Medal Winners
2014: Mitch Karpik (Auckland)
2015: Charlie Gamble (Canterbury)
2016: Luke Jacobson (Waikato)
2017: Sione Havili (Auckland)
2018: Kaleb Trask (Bay of Plenty)
2019: Fletcher Newell (Canterbury)
2020: Not Awarded
2021: Sean Withy (Highlanders)
2022: Tahlor Cahill (New Zealand Barbarians)
*The DJ Graham Medal was previously awarded to the best player at the Jock Hobbs Memorial National Under 19 tournament. From last year, it’s been awarded at the Bunnings Warehouse Super Rugby Under 20 tournament.