It was a fairytale entrance into Super Rugby for Rhys Marshall this year, and now the young hooker is set to play a more prominent role as the Chiefs seek a third successive championship.
Marshall was named in the reserves for the Chiefs' opening match of 2013 against the Highlanders in Dunedin, however ended up playing a superb 80 minutes in the visitors' win, due to the absence of Hika Elliot midweek and the withdrawal of Mahonri Schwalger on game-day.
That was before Marshall had even played an NPC match, picked out of obscurity from the New Zealand Under-20s.
With the return of both experienced rakes, Marshall's opportunities became limited.
Now, almost a year on, with a few games for Taranaki under his belt, the 21-year-old is set to be see more action, with Elliot recovering from neck surgery, which may see him out for the season or even stop playing altogether, and Schwalger recovering from further clean-up surgery on his knee.
Marshall said he was keen to build on what he had taken out of this year's campaign.
"That first game, it was pretty awesome, any game I was involved with, any training I was involved with up here was pretty cool for me, being a greenhorn. But taking things forward, I've learnt a couple of lessons that I won't repeat again, and hopefully they'll hold me in good stead."
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie called Marshall "a good kid" and noted the "great job" he did for them this year.
"He's incredibly fit and he works hard and he's confident," Rennie said. "So he's been good. He's put a lot of emphasis on his lineout throwing and it's going a lot better."
But not taking things for granted, Marshall is modest about what lies ahead for him, with the Bay of Plenty duo of Nathan Harris and Joe Royal brought in to train with the squad.
"They're both really talented players and we're pushing ourselves to places we wouldn't expect to be about this time, so it's very cool, very exciting," Marshall said.
"Those pre-season games are definitely trials, there's no denying that. And a lot of players will be putting their hands up as far as selection goes. So I've just got to hope that I fit the bill, that I can put my hand up at the right times in the right places and really get a tick in the right box."
Marshall this year spent a week with the All Blacks under the hooker apprenticeship scheme and said he learnt the value of hard work, hearing a lot of stories about things not going your way when you think they're going to.
"That was outstanding. That was very, very humbling for me. Pretty emotional actually, to be up in a room full of guys you've admired your whole life. No different to coming to an environment like this last year and kind of in awe of the whole thing. It was very cool for me and something that I'm definitely striving for."
After his first full-on year of rugby, Marshall admitted to being tired come the end of an NPC, where he spent a fair chunk of time on the bench.
"I came out the end of it not quite where I was hoping I'd be. So I had a couple of weeks off and recharged the batteries and ripped into this," he said, adding that the environment at the Chiefs was great to come back into.
"It's the mix of players and people that they have up here, that, to me, is really exciting and something to look forward to. Now that Taranaki's involved with the Chiefs it just makes it a little bit more homely for me," Marshall said, also quipping that that new ownership deal should make it a bit easier for his family to decide who to cheer for when the Chiefs play the Hurricanes.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Which two NZ teams look the most likely to make the Super Rugby playoffs?