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Brad Shields wasn't the merriest man in Mangatainoka, but he might have been the happiest after his strong return from injury on Saturday.
The 21-year-old and his rebuilt knee got through a solid 30 minutes at No 8 during the Hurricanes' pre-season Super Rugby match against the Chiefs.
And after his first match in seven months, Shields declared himself champing at the bit to play a part in the Hurricanes' season opener against the Blues at Westpac Stadium.
"I'm definitely keen. To get through that first 30 minutes was what we'd aimed for, so it's a stepping stone, but more than that, from here on I think it [the knee] will handle pretty well," he said. "Once I got out there I didn't really notice it at all, so it's all good."
Shields must have had some nerves as the surgery to remove a chunk of bone and cartilage in his knee cap got its first full blown test, but it quickly disappeared as he tore into his work.
"I always knew it was going to be hard work, but that first 15 minutes was bloody quick. Obviously the dry track and the heat didn't help. But I kind of expected it, so you just had to get on with it I guess."
Some strong runs, accurate cleanouts and good cover defence may cause coach Mark Hammett to pause as he considers his loose forward mix this week.
Victor Vito must start at No 8, while Faifili Levave should have the front-running at blindside.
But how Hammett uses his three other available loose forwards, opensides Karl Lowe and Ardie Savea and blindside/No 8 Shields will be interesting.
Lowe got plenty of game time during the 25-21 loss at Mangatainoka, while Savea looked a man apart after coming off the bench in the final quarter.
"I thought Brad had a huge game," Hammett said. "Both of those young guys, Ardie and Brad, were pretty impressive actually. Ardie was really physical. He's a bit like his brother [Julian], just incredible power.
"You think you have him held and next thing you know he's out of there."
Whatever happens, Shields will reflect on a positive week, one that he capped off by re-signing with the Hurricanes for the next two years.
His contract includes only one year with the Wellington Lions, but runs through to the end of 2014 with the Hurricanes.
"I love playing in Wellington. It's hard to see myself anywhere else really," Shields said. "I kind of looked at the six months [out injured] as a bit of a freshen up period. Now it's not so much make up for lost time but take my opportunity I suppose."
- The Dominion Post
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