Cory Jane delivers a warning: 'I'm not done'
You forget sometimes about the fire in the belly of Cory Jane. He's so good at turning media ops into stand-up comedy routines, the serious side of this gifted rugby player often gets a little glossed over.
But Jane is a man on a mission in 2014, and even gives you his sombre face when he tells you this. He's lost his place up the top of New Zealand rugby's outside backs pecking order, and wants to send those All Black incumbents a fairly clear message: "I'm coming for them."
This is a motivated and focused Jane heading into the new Super Rugby season. Last year he went down before it even begun with a serious knee injury that destabilised his - and the Hurricanes' - entire year. This time round there's a real purpose about a man who when things are flowing makes the game look pretty damn easy.
Last year's All Blacks tour was a sobering experience for Jane, on the comeback trail from that knee issue. He was usurped by Charles Piutau as the first-choice right wing, Julian Savea had locked down the left side and suddenly the jokerman from Wellington was on the outside looking in.
His body language and mood on tour reflected that. He never looked fully at ease. When Jane is on top of things he has a swagger; last year up north was more a stagger.
"I wasn't quite where I wanted to be but I still played and was injury free. So I guess that was the plus side," Jane says. "I've had a pre-season now, done a lot of leg weights which you need when you have a knee injury. It's like before I was injured, so I'm feeling excited again.
"I've got to prove I can still play at an elite level -- not just go out and be a rugby player. I still want to make things happen."
Proving himself all over is, in fact, nothing new for Jane. Remember 2011? After a sub-par Super season he missed initial selection for the pre-World Cup Tri-Nations, only sneaking in as injury cover. It took him a while, but by mid-tournament he was the go-to guy again at No 14.
"I knew I had to get my act together and work hard because the pressure wasn't on me, the pressure is on the guys who are starting in the All Blacks jersey. They have to work hard every week because I'm coming for them. That's the mentality I've got now. I'm not done."
This should be good. Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph rates the Canes a serious threat this year. He looks at their All Black talent, led by a rejuvenated Jane and Conrad Smith, their depth, their motivation, and he also figures, heck, they're due.
Jane doesn't disagree, but concedes the franchise, which hasn't finished higher than eighth the last four years, has an important equation to get right before the under-achieving tag can be shaken.
"We've got so much talent, but we've just been too shaky over the last couple of years. We've worked a lot in the pre-season on everyone knowing their roles and everyone being held accountable now. You walk in the kitchen and someone just put a plate down without washing it. Bang! Hit him with it - 'clean your plate'. Those little things are important because if you skim over them it's going to be like that for the whole year."
Jane says the players spoke after last year, and the franchise listened. The coaching staff now includes defence and skills specialists. The game, too, is set to be a touch more pragmatic.
"Every team wants to have fun, but it's picking your time when you do it," Jane says. "In the past we've got caught in a game and don't know how to change. So if it's fast-paced we enjoy it, and then if it slows down we're still trying to play fast-paced. That's something we need to do better this year."
Jane talks about Smith's return in tip-top shape, mentally and physically. He lauds the skipper's desire to "work harder than the next man".
Of course, it all comes back to that black jersey. "Yeah," smiles Jane. "I want it back!"