Richard Kahui is back and the Chiefs are breathing a sigh of relief.
Without Sonny Bill Williams this season Dave Rennie and his coaching crew were pinning their hopes on using Kahui in a similar role to give their side the sort of line-breaking ability Williams did in 2012.
But he has not come back from his shoulder reconstruction as quickly as first hoped, extra key-hole surgery to repair scar tissue that was causing discomfort delaying his return until last Friday night when he came off the bench for an impressive 32 minutes.
There is no doubting Kahui's fitness - he has been training since last August and is in outstanding shape - but he had not played for 10 months and he was the first to admit match fitness cannot be replaced by anything other than game time.
"You just can't replicate it no matter what you do," Kahui said in admitting the pace of Friday night's 19-7 win over the Highlanders had taken its toll.
With 10-15 minutes to go his legs felt a little heavy when he went to chase a kick through from Liam Messam, but again stressed there was no fitness like game fitness and was pleased with the work he achieved while on the field.
"There was obviously a bit of apprehension before the game, a little bit of nervousness, but to get through half an hour of footy and get a few touches felt good.
"I really wanted to get into the game and if you come off the bench sometimes you can float around and not touch the ball so I wanted to be real proactive, run off the forwards and get a few really good touches.
"I think I did that and felt strong in the contact area so there are a lot of positives to take out of that 30 minutes."
Kahui gave his shoulder a good test in the tackle, but admits he still felt a little tentative in a couple of them.
"But I suppose for a first hit-out I made a few good tackles on it, felt really comfortable and from here I'll keep growing and keep getting better."
Kahui said he felt confident that after another good week of contact training he would be ready to start against the Blues at Mt Maunganui this Saturday if selected.
"I feel like I ticked a few boxes tonight and if I was asked to start I would happily start but even off the bench I wouldn't be bothered either way and there's still a lot to do to earn that starting jersey.
"Timmy [Nanai-Williams] has been playing well and Charlie Ngatai and co have been doing the job as well so if I want to start now that I'm healthy I'm going to have to work my way back in."
Kahui leaves New Zealand at the end of the season to take up a contract in Japan, but he said his motivation had not changed.
"I want the Chiefs to be the best and that's always been my motivation. For me I want to give my best for the team and that hasn't changed.
"Although I head away at the end of the year that's not changing my dedication to the team or what I want out of the season. I want us to win, I want us to be the best and to back up what we did last year and for me that's been the motivation for the last 10 months I've been trying to get my rehab and training right.
"I feel like I've put the hard work in now and it's time to contribute to the team and hopefully we can do what we've set out to do and that's win another title."
- Waikato Times
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