Josh Hohneck had to play the water boy and relay some stern coach's messages during Waikato's heavy defeat to Canterbury last Friday, but now he's looking to have an impact of his own tonight.
The Mooloo men face fellow premiership side Taranaki at Waikato Stadium, and the hosts will be boosted by the return of the 28-year-old prop, who has recovered from a broken thumb and will play his first match for Waikato in six years.
Hohneck debuted in 2007 and spent the past five seasons with Bay of Plenty.
''This is where I cut my teeth, really, as a rugby player. So it's good to be back,'' he said.
''I went over to the Bay, better opportunity, and I got that, and things have just worked out to come back.''
Hohneck has also worked his way to featuring more regularly at Super Rugby level, and it was in the Chiefs' match against the Highlanders in Dunedin just over eight weeks ago where he broke his right thumb.
''I was just in a ruck, one of the boys cleaned out on top of it, just sheer force eh, not really much I could do about it,'' said Hohneck, who has signed a two-year contract to play for the Highlanders.
''It was actually one of the Chiefs boys, so maybe they were unhappy with me signing down there, they just found out a couple of days before that.''
Despite heading down south for Super Rugby, Hohneck is keen to return here for the NPC.
''We're building a good culture here and a good team,'' he said. ''It's pretty exciting looking at our team, even this year. So pending anything major happening . . . it'll be good to come back up here and miss the real bite of the winter down there as well.''
Hohneck's hand was supported by some thick strapping at Monday's training - his first contact session since the injury.
''It's pretty good, eh,'' he said of the thumb. ''I'm right on the verge of when the surgeon wanted me back. I've played rugby my whole life, should be able to remember how to do it.''
Hohneck will start in his favoured position of tighthead and rates his chances of going the distance if required.
''I've always sort of liked playing 80 minutes,'' he said.
''I'll be blowing after 20 minutes but that's all right. It'll be good for me if I have to. That's the thing with ITM Cup, we've only got one prop on the bench so someone's got to do it.''
Waikato are keen to turn their fortunes around after their 58-27 loss to Canterbury, while Taranaki come in desperate after losing at the death against Hawke's Bay, which followed a draw against Counties Manukau.
''We're reasonably hard on ourselves, so we've picked out a fair few things to fix and a fair few things that went wrong, and worked on them pretty well,'' Hohneck said.
''There's no massive majors it's just sort of the trust in our systems. We've got a pretty exciting team, so if we stick to things and probably play that structure a bit better, when the razzle dazzle comes on it's pretty natural to all these young boys.''
At Monday's training, the players were given a bellowing by assistant coach Andrew Douglas during their tackle/ruck simulations, and warned that if they continued to train as they were, they would get what they got last Friday night.
''We've got to prepare to win those physical battles, and that's what we were disappointed with today [Monday],'' coach Johnny Walters said.
''When we keep the pressure on this group they're a bloody good group. We really want to keep growing and we don't sort of want to slump back and think that anything on Friday night was acceptable, we're a lot better than that and pretty disappointed.''
Waikato yesterday made two late changes to their lineup, with second five-eighth Anton Lienert-Brown and reserve hooker Hame Faiva both left out as a precaution after suffering ankle injuries at the Monday training.
They have been replaced by Shayne Anderson and Harry Jones, respectively.
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AT A GLANCE
NPC, Week 3:
Waikato: Albert Nikoro, Declan O'Donnell, Jordan Payne, Shayne Anderson, Joe Webber, Wharenui Hawera, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Adam Burn, Marty Holah (c), Josh Tyrell, Jacob Skeen, Luke Katene, Josh Hohneck, Brayden Mitchell, James McGougan. Res: Harry Jones, Ben Tameifuna, David Morgan, Zane Kapeli, Brad Weber, Damian McKenzie, Regan Ware.
Taranaki: James Marshall (c), Jackson Ormond, Seta Tamanivalu, Charlie Ngatai, Waisake Naholo, Marty McKenzie, Jamison Gibson-Park, Blade Thomson, Berny Hall, Mitchell Crosswell, James Broadhurst, Leighton Price, Angus Ta'avao, Rhys Marshall, Mitchell Graham. Res: Timo Tutavaha, Ryan Cocker, Riki Hoeata, Toa Halafihi, Chris Smylie, Sean Wainui, Codey Rei.
Referee: Damian Mitchelmore (Australia).
Kickoff: 7.35 tonight, Waikato Stadium.
- Waikato Times
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