The Chiefs haven't given up on having the services of former All Blacks hooker Hika Elliot for part of next year's Super Rugby competition.
Elliot himself is not so optimistic, even weighing up the possibility of retirement while recovering from neck surgery at home in Hawke's Bay.
But head coach Dave Rennie is realistic that Elliot, who had the operation two weeks ago, will not be there for at least the first half of the season.
And with Mahonri Schwalger recovering from further clean-up surgery on a knee that limited his appearances this year, the hooking resources are looking thin.
This year's rookie rake, Rhys Marshall, 21, is the only fit hooker in the squad able to undertake pre-season training and another 21-year-old, Bay of Plenty's Nathan Harris, has been brought in to fill the gap in the meantime.
Rennie said they were not allowed to officially replace Elliot at this stage and a lot would hinge on the Counties Manukau and former Hawke's Bay representative's return visit to a specialist in a fortnight to see how he had responded to the operation.
"So far the news is pretty positive, the surgeon's happy and now it's just a bit of time," Rennie said.
"There's probably no doubt we will lose him for part of a season and I guess once the specialists have a look we will see whether it's going to be longer than that.
"The key thing is we want him to get right, he's got to be confident with what's happened but by all accounts the surgery went well."
Elliot, 27, said yesterday medical experts estimated he had been playing with a bulging spinal disc in his neck for a couple of years but it came to a head while playing for the Maori All Blacks against Canada in Toronto last month.
The surgery was ordered to fuse his neck using a piece of bone from his hip.
"I've already made a decision that I'm looking at sitting out most of Super Rugby if not all of Super Rugby this year, and maybe ITM Cup, because I've got to weigh my options in terms of my career.
"And it's been pretty scary the last couple of weeks. We'll cross that bridge when it needs to be crossed, but I think for me at the moment it's just about getting right and doing therehab side of things.
"I just feel that I'm incredibly lucky to still be walking."
He said thoughts of retirement were still something that he had to think about.
"At the end of the day we're talking about people's lives and being able to walk. I don't really want to play Russian roulette with that side of things.
"Given my position and given the injury, it's something I need to take a hard look at."
Rennie said Schwalger was physically in the best shape he had been in for the last few years, even though he was currently not doing a great deal of running, and his knee was feeling stronger than it had after the previous surgery.
"It never really came right then but he's been pretty disciplined in his rehab and he probably pushed it a little too hard last time. We're pretty confident he'll be good to start the season," he said.
It was too early to make a call on Elliott as to how much rugby, if any, they got out of him in 2014, but were confident they would get plenty out of Schwalger and Marshall with Harris a possible option if Elliot was ruled out for the season.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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