Chiefs prop aims for a Whoppa of a season
For Jamie Mackintosh it is his ninth Super Rugby pre-season training stint, but the big prop they call "Whoppa" admits this time he was a bit nervous at the start.
For the first time the 28-year-old one-test All Black and former Highlanders captain is moving out of his comfort zone in the deep south and changing teams to the Chiefs after 67 appearances for the Dunedin-based franchise.
Struggling for starts behind All Black loosehead Tony Woodcock this year, Mackintosh agreed to move to the Chiefs for 2014 and, while currently hampered by a slight leg injury, has been training with them for a couple of weeks.
"It's been a pretty tough couple of weeks but I think all pre-seasons around the country are pretty hard.
"They're long days and they try to get the most out of you but I'm not running too much at the moment - I've got a bit of Achilles tendinitis - so it's been a little bit easier for me than some of the boys out on the field."
Mackintosh said the four-week pre-Christmas training period was always a good test of a player's mettle and a great time of the year to get to know people.
"It's funny because you play against so many people over the years in New Zealand rugby and you think you get to know them pretty well but when you come into their environment and actually get to know them intimately it is different.
"And I've really enjoyed meeting new coaches and I think just training in a new building and being in a new environment it's definitely something a bit foreign for me.
"I was a bit nervous before I came up but it's good to be outside of your comfort zone and do something a bit different, so I've been pretty happy."
The giant 1.92-metre, 128kg front rower hopes it will be a fresh start for him and give him a chance to revive his brief All Blacks career.
"Definitely it's an opportunity and probably a move that gives me a bit of exposure hopefully to put me back on the map and get me back in the All Blacks but first and foremost for me it's about proving myself to a new group of people.
"I've been at the Highlanders, in the system there for eight or nine years and I've always kept myself in good condition and fit, so for me to come up and prove that to a new group of people and show what I can do is pretty exciting.
"But at the same time I've got a lot of hard work to do to get where I want to go and make some improvements in my game and the coaches here have been really good at communicating to me the areas I need to work on to get there."
Mackintosh is realistic enough to know he can't just expect to walk into a starting berth at the Chiefs following the departure of Toby Smith to the Melbourne Rebels but either way he sees more game time ahead.
Smith and Pauliasi Manu battled out the loosehead spot closely throughout last season.
"Pauliasi Manu is an awesome prop and I think he's a great scrummager and really come along around the field and then we've got two big tightheads on the other side that can do the damage," Mackintosh said.
"With the two-prop rule on the bench this year I think it's going to be really exciting that we'll be able to share some game time and hopefully be involved in the [playing] squad every week, whereas last season with me and Woody it was one or the other and the other was sitting in the stand.
"As it turned out I sat in the stand more often than not."
One thing the big Southlander is aiming to do in 2014 is to time his run better and get a better finish to the season than previously.
"I think I always come off the back end of a pre-season nice and fit and start competitions really well and then I fade away towards the end through workload and maybe not managing myself as well as I should."
But there are no captaincy responsibilities to encourage him to overdo that training and playing workload and he said he would instead concentrate on playing "a higher quality of footy".
"You're not going to get through a Super Rugby season without using everyone in your squad and while, sure I want to shoot for that No 1 jersey, if not I will do whatever I can for the team."
Mackintosh said every team aimed to have a hard-working environment with good values and a real family atmosphere but some teams did it better than others and the signs for him at the Chiefs were already very promising with highly approachable coaches, a great team spirit and facilities within a peaceful setting that were second to none.
"I think it's just a great place to turn yourself into a bit of a weapon and get your team going right," he said.