James Marshall's rugby season has a definitive path in 2013.
Last year he was going through the same painful pre-season training with the Hurricanes, only to be left out in the cold as part of the wider training group as the Super Rugby season began in earnest.
Fast forward 12 months and the Taranaki back of the year at least has the light at the end of the tunnel of knowing he could feature in coach Mark Hammett's plans.
Marshall's versatility and his impressive form for Taranaki in the No 10 jersey in Beauden Barrett's absence saw him pick up a Hurricanes contract, something he had hoped to do when he made the move north from Tasman late in 2011.
"Last year I got pretty fit only to go back to the ‘Naki and sit on the couch," he said after another gruelling session at Rugby League Park in Wellington yesterday.
"It's good this year that I'll get into shape and hopefully be able to do something with it."
The 24-year-old has been told by the coaching staff that he was picked primarily as a first five-eighth.
With Barrett still enjoying his holiday, like the rest of the Hurricanes' All Blacks, Marshall has been enjoying running at first receiver when the physical training takes a back seat to allow the players an early look at the structures Hammett was looking to implement in 2013.
Marshall has also enjoyed a longer break following the NPC, the Hurricanes having only been called back to work for a fortnight before Christmas as opposed to the five weeks they were required in the capital during his first stint of pre-season work.
"It's been a bit more intense, I think, a bit more full-on, but it's all good," he said.
Grinding gym sessions, speed work, physical testing, wrestling at the local boxing club and endless conditioning under the summer sun are filling five days a week for Marshall and his team-mates at present as they prepare for the Hurricanes first pre-season match against the Crusaders in Timaru on February 2.
While Marshall's physical results are a little under the marks he was setting last season, he was still top of the pops when it came to the dreaded yo yo tests.
"Last year I came straight from sevens and did the yo yo test. This year I came straight from Christmas, so that's probably a reasonable excuse," he said.
Being one of a handful of new full-time recruits, Marshall was naturally a little apprehensive to start with but said the transition into the squad had been seamless.
"The environment here is really good at the moment and I think that's a credit to Hammer (Hammett). I don't know what it was like a couple of years ago but at the moment the squad is real friendly and you're made to feel welcome, no matter who you are."
- © Fairfax NZ News
Should there be golden point extra time in Super Rugby?Related story: (See story)