Richard Kahui is taking no chances this time. Not that he thought he was taking any after previous shoulder injuries.
But the All Blacks midfield/outside back is determined to do everything he can in terms of rehabilitation and strengthening work before launching into full contact with the Chiefs.
Even though it provides no guarantee against future injuries.
Kahui dislocated his shoulder last May while playing for the Chiefs against the Reds in Brisbane and after initial good news from the specialist it was decided in June he needed surgery to repair the damage the dislocation had caused, ruling him out for the rest of the year.
"I'm not quite fit enough shoulder wise yet," Kahui said two days into the Chiefs' post-Christmas pre-season training.
"It feels great but I'm still maybe a month or so away from really digging into some real contact.
"I said to the coaches we've got the time to give it a little bit more time and do a little bit more rehab and strengthening up so I think we'll take that time. But otherwise everything feels great and it's just great to be back doing some actual rugby training."
Just the simple act of passing and catching a ball that most players take for granted has been a welcome addition to Kahui's training activities this week.
"It's just good to be out there with the boys again," he said.
Kahui has become something of an expert at returning from shoulder injuries, resigned to the fact he has a weakness in that part of his body that has led to several surgeries and lengthy layoffs from the game.
"You learn different things all the time and I've obviously learnt how hard it is to come back from shoulder injuries with some sort of form so really these next couple of months are big for me, just trying to get that feel for the ball again and remember what I'm looking for, things I'm doing - you just forgot little things when you're not playing all the time.
"It's quite hard in that respect but you learn a lot of other stuff as well. I've learnt to manage myself better off the field and I obviously contributed a bit to the team [off the field] last year when I wasn't able to play so it's not been all bad."
He admits to being sick of standing on the sideline watching his All Blacks, Chiefs and Waikato team-mates training and playing but says he has enjoyed his many hours in the gym, having carefully planned his rehab this time.
"It's never fun training by yourself but I've actually enjoyed it and I don't think I've ever been as dedicated as I have this time so I feel really good about that and whatever happens I feel really positive that I've done everything I can to come back in the best shape I can.
"The last couple of times I've come back I've been in better nick than when I left so if I can do that again that will be great."
He has tried everything he can to ensure his shoulders are stronger and more immune to injury in the future, but in the end there are no guarantees.
"I talked to the surgeon about how we strap [my shoulders] and do this and that but he said there is not really not much else you can do, other than what I am doing.
"Obviously I have weaker shoulders or something, but just really a lot of bad luck and hopefully in the year of 2013 that luck is going to change."
Kahui returns to see the midfield dynamic of the Chiefs changed with the departure of Sonny Bill Williams and Jackson Willison and in their place two young newcomers in Charlie Ngatai and Bundee Aki, who will vie for starts with versatile and talented utility back Andrew Horrell.
"With me coming back from injury it's like having three new midfielders and both Charlie and Bundee had really good ITM Cups [last season] and are two lads with a lot of potential and a lot of talent.
"I'm getting as much from them as I think they will from me and training with them, just their energy and things like that.
"There's no doubt we'll miss Sonny, he was a real key figure in the success last year, but I think that just gives the rest of us a real good challenge to push each other really hard to be as good as we can be," Kahui said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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