Pulu the beneficiary of Leonard's bad luck
August Pulu got his first real break with the Chiefs when former All Blacks halfback Brendon Leonard got injured in last season's Super Rugby opener.
Now it's happened again with Leonard fracturing a cheekbone, this time before the season has even kicked off, and Pulu, now a fully fledged member of the squad from the outset, will likely come off the bench in Mangatainoka this afternoon in the final pre-season trial against the Hurricanes behind current All Black Tawera Kerr-Barlow and again next week in the first-round away fixture against the Highlanders.
But the young Counties Manukau Steeler, whose game has blossomed since he got called in from the wider training group last season, has had to temper his enthusiasm to impress with a careful approach to an injury of his own.
Pulu, 23, has had to learn to manage a stress fracture in his leg that was first discovered in the 2010 pre-season and put him out for that year. It now means monitoring his training load carefully.
"I was struggling for a couple of years due to my leg and then I found out it was a stress fracture and they've helped me a lot this year and last year with the load they give me," Pulu said.
"So I'm able to do my fitness on the treadmill or the rowing machine – other ways of doing it – and that's helped me a lot.
"It's just something I've got to manage and the coaches they all know that. When it gets sore I just let them know and they will tell me which sessions to do or not to do. I've really been able to improve my fitness levels by doing that."
It means he can still showcase his skills with Leonard out for another four weeks as his cheekbone heals.
"My heart goes out to Brendon, it's just hard luck and I really respect him but it's another opportunity for me to get in that 22 or try and progress to get a starting spot."
Pulu took his chances well last year and will be particularly remembered for the cheeky try he scored after the hooter against the Sharks in Durban.
He then took what he had learnt back to the Steelers and the ITM Cup.
"I think I've stepped up a lot, not just in the games but during reviews and stuff and reading play that I never used to read.
"It just goes back to the management and what they bring to our footy. I have a better understanding of the game and how they're trying to play it.
"I've brought a lot of confidence from last year as well and certainly have a lot more confidence in myself now."
Leonard is not the only player who will be missing from the lineup at Mangatainoka today with fellow backs Richard Kahui, Andrew Horrell, Robbie Robinson and Charlie Ngatai also out with injuries. That gives first-five Gareth Anscombe a shot at fullback and wing/fullback Tim Nanai-Williams also a chance to also prove his versatility at centre.
"We have been really impressed with both of these players," head coach Dave Rennie said.
"With their skill sets they very well could start the season in these positions, so they are getting a crack at it tomorrow," he said yesterday.
HOW THEY LINE UP
Chiefs: Gareth Anscombe, Lelia Masaga, Tim Nanai-Williams, Bundee Aki, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Fritz Lee, Tanerau Latimer, Nick Crosswell, Mike Fitzgerald, Craig Clarke (c), Ben Afeaki, Hika Elliot, Pauliasi Manu. Res: Mahonri Schwalter, Rhys Marshall, Toby Smith, Ben Tameifuna, Romana Graham, Brodie Retallick, Ross Filipo, Liam Messam, Sam Cane, August Pulu, Maritino Nemani, Patrick Osborne.