James Marshall's done pretty well for a bloke with dodgy hips and a couple of super-stars blocking his way.
Nobody, including Marshall thought he'd have wrested the No 15 jersey away from Andre Taylor this season.
That's because at the start of the year the Taranaki utility was the Hurricanes' back-up first five-eighth behind Beauden Barrett and playing on two hips that will be surgically repaired in a few week's time.
"For me personally this is a huge opportunity," Marshall said ahead of tonight's match against the Highlanders. "I had a chance last week [against the Chiefs] and I think [backs coach] Alama [Ieremia] was pretty happy, so its a chance to grow from that and really push for next year."
Marshall's an intriguing prospect, still only 24 and, like his brother Tom at the Crusaders, showing he's well equipped to succeed at Super Rugby.
Last week James got his second start of the season as Taylor nursed a sore shoulder, but this week he's been selected on form.
That's astonishing considering how well Taylor played last year and is perhaps symbolic of a Hurricanes season in which the backs have struggled to create space for their outsides.
When it comes to back play, one player's struggles can tend to have a knock on effect and Taylor appears to have suffered from a lack of punch in midfield and the absence of Cory Jane, rather than any major change in his own game.
Whatever the case, Marshall hopes he can add a new dimension and take some of the pressure off Barrett at first receiver in attack and with his kicking game out of defence.
"They are looking for a second playmaker sort of role and with Timmy [Bateman] out at the moment we've sort of lost someone there and its an opportunity for me to organise and play a bit of first receiver as well."
Marshall will miss the NPC to have surgery to clean up the sockets on both of his hips, a problem that's dogged the former New Zealand sevens player over the past three or four years.
He's not the only returning Hurricane keen to leave a lasting impression at the end of the season of limited opportunities.
Blindside Faifili Levave was a stalwart of the starting side last year, but has played second fiddle to Brad Shields for most of this season.
Levave beileves basic errors have been the difference between wins and losses this sesaon.
"I know its a cliche to say do the basics, but for us it is just doing the basic as opposed to worrying about what other people are doing," he said. "Its getting too far ahead, thinking about what you are doing after you catch the ball... that comes with a bit of maturity and experience.
"Its been one of those years where we've fallen short at the last hurdle, but the main thing is this core group stays strong. Sometimes the dice doesn't roll your way but its how you get up and take the good from the bad."
- Fairfax Media
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