When Mike Fitzgerald was brought into the Chiefs last season by his former Manawatu coach Dave Rennie, few fans here knew much about him.
But the workaholic lock, who played a role off the bench for the most part last season, has really come of age in recent weeks as he has relished three starts in a row while co-captain Craig Clarke recovers from concussion.
Fitzgerald, originally from Wanganui, has been able to put into play his new-found fitness and mobility, which is a result of a lot of hard work in the off-season.
"I had a couple of work-ons I had to do - some lineout jumping stuff and getting more speed and getting fitter.
"So I did a lot of work in the off-season, but I knew I had to with an All Black and the captain in front of me."
While Fitzgerald is about a kilogram lighter than last season he said it was really the major improvement in his aerobic fitness, taking his yo-yo test score to a "whole new level", that had made the difference to his game.
"I just got a programme and worked hard - trained every day in the off-season."
The chance now to start is showing the results of that.
"You get into the game a lot more [when starting] and I guess it's given me a lot more confidence as a player to come on and do what I've got to do - just play my own game," Fitzgerald said.
"I think I'm going pretty good and with more game time I feel like I'm going a lot better, contributing to the team quite well."
While he got his break at the expense of Clarke's head knock, something he would rather not have happened, Fitzgerald admits the consistent game time has boosted his form and confidence. "It's just like anything - the more you do it the better you get, the better you feel."
After three starts in a row Fitzgerald is not so sure this week's bye is the best thing for him. He feels like he is on a roll and doesn't want to stop.
"I'm pretty keen to keep going, keep starting and keep playing rugby, but the bye is good though and I'll enjoy a couple of days off, go to the beach and just chill out for a couple of days with the wife."
Fitzgerald said it was a satisfying feeling to come off what the Chiefs had pegged as a mini-season of two home games against the Highlanders and Blues before this week's bye with two wins and in a strong situation going into the break.
"The hardest games are the local derby ones so it's great to put them behind us." firstname.lastname@example.org
- Waikato Times
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