Rene Ranger is pumped to play his part in the resurrection of the Blues and welcomes the leading role he's been handed by new coach Sir John Kirwan.
Actually, it's a dual role - a chance to finally make a successful shift from the wing to centre and also be part of the leadership group in a very raw squad.
It seems an unlikely fit for a player who has had his share of off-field issues since breaking into the Blues in 2009.
But there's now an air of responsibility about Ranger, a sense that he can make the most of his prodigious talent and also impart a bit of wisdom on the youngsters assembled around him.
The 26-year-old Ranger and Piri Weepu are the only surviving backs from last year's horror season. The cleanout has left the Blues short on experience but not excitement or energy.
Ranger, a three-test All Black in 2010, said he had plenty of help from the likes of Joe Rokocoko, Anthony Tuitavake and Isaia Toeava when he came into the Super ranks. Now it's about him providing something similar to the new breed of Blues.
He won't curb his trademark humour but he will offer advice and he hopes to lead by example.
"I've got a leadership role this year. Now I've got to perform and play well," Ranger said.
"I've been here for a while. For me at this stage it's about playing good rugby for the Blues and playing that consistently.
"For Piri and me, it's a case of us helping these young fellas out. They challenge us sometimes, too, which is good. I think everyone is pretty excited. There are a lot of young guys who can't wait for the chance to prove themselves at that Super level."
With 49 games and 19 tries for the Blues, Ranger is enthused by the challenge of trying to make the No 13 jersey his own. With his ability to break tackles and create opportunities, it makes sense to get Ranger more involved.
"I'm really keen to play a midfield role. I'm probably not as fast as I used to be on the wing. This pre-season is about playing for spots so there's a lot to be determined, but I want to try to get that centre spot.
"I just see myself as more of a midfielder now. I like playing wing but I feel like I need to get my hands on the ball more, I guess and make those better decisions."
It looks like being a pivotal season for Ranger. With his all-too- brief All Blacks career waning, talk of him heading overseas has resurfaced with French clubs apparently keen on him.
"There's been a few rumours about heading offshore and stuff; they were there a couple of years ago as well. At the moment my first goal is for the Blues and to play well for them."
And what about resurrecting his test career? "Who wouldn't want to be an All Black? But there are so many talented players out there these days. You have to play well for your franchise first and if it comes, it comes. That's the way I look at it.
"The more positions you can play the more chance you have of making the side. You have got to be world class at playing in the midfield at the moment. I probably don't see myself as world class at centre yet. It's a challenge but I don't want to look too far ahead."
He's enjoying the encouragement and advice of Kirwan as well as reconnecting with former All Blacks mentors Sir Graham Henry and Mick Byrne, who are now in the Blues coaching mix.
The Blues lost 41-35 against the Queensland Reds in a warmup match in Toowoomba late last night.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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