This time last year Liam Squire was coming to the end of a long spell on the sidelines recovering from a serious ankle injury and professional rugby was a long way from his thoughts.
Twelve months later and how things have changed for the Palmerston North-born and bred Tasman loose forward.
Squire, 22, is one of the least recognisable new faces in the Chiefs for 2014 and will mount a strong bid for the team's No 8 jersey, even though he is perhaps better known as a blindside flanker for Tasman.
He was recruited on the back of a standout national provincial championship for a Tasman team that won the championship division to earn promotion to next year's premiership.
Such was his form that he also earned selection in the Maori All Blacks squad that recently beat both Canada and the USA on a North America tour.
"I arrived here last week and got straight into it, going away on a camp where we had a big bike ride and few other activities, but so far it's been enjoyable," Squire said of his first taste of Super Rugby pre-season training.
But the 1.96m, 113kg loose forward admitted the intensive strength and fitness conditioning period before Christmas was proving a shock to the system.
"I've come straight out of just playing rugby and haven't had much to do with the sort of cardio stuff out on the field that they do here," he said.
Squire said he had been "a bit down in the dumps" over his ankle injury last year that put him out of rugby for 10 months but had got stuck into fitness work at the start of the year and it had paid off with a strong season for Tasman.
"I started back at the beginning of January with my pre-season training so I got a bit of a head-start and spent a lot of time in the gym getting all the niggles right for the season, so it definitely paid off."
Squire attended Palmerston North Boys' High School for a couple of years and then went farming before making the move to Nelson three years ago.
It has certainly paid off for him and a number of his Tasman team-mates who have been promoted into Super Rugby on the back of their successful season and exciting brand of rugby.
"It was a good season with Tasman and it gave guys the opportunity to go higher with the style we were playing there, which was quite enjoyable."
Squire sees himself as both a No 6 and No 8 but wants to get more experience at the back of the scrum where injuries played a big part at the Chiefs this year, Waikato's Matt Vant Leven in the end taking his chances after being promoted from the wider training group.
Vant Leven has since taken up a contract in Japan and experienced 2012 Chief Kane Thompson is due to return from the same country next March to take his place in the Chiefs' squad.
"I've only had one season in ITM Cup at eight so I've got a bit to learn but I'm real keen to keep chipping away at it and get better," said Squire.
"They've got Kane Thompson here, who is quite a good No 8 so it's going to be a tough challenge but it's exciting as well.
"Maybe there's an opportunity to actually cement the spot if you go well enough," said Squire who has more experience in the back row at club level but did make the switch there for Tasman this year.
He is not sure what to expect from his first Super Rugby season and realises it will be a big ask to force his way into a starting spot, but is hopeful competition will bring the best out in him and his experience on the Maori All Blacks tour will help him bridge the gap to the higher level of rugby.
"You go and join [the Maori] high performance group up there and they had six All Blacks there and you get a bit of a vibe off them of what it's like in Super Rugby so it was good to go away with them and get a feel for things," Squire said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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