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Teenage second five-eighth Anton Leinert-Brown has every reason to believe a shoulder reconstruction, which put him out of rugby all last year, had a silver lining.
Leinert-Brown, the 18-year-old who was recruited by the Chiefs' coaches out of Christchurch Boys' High School at the end of 2012 and brought to Waikato, has played only two part-games since leaving school and they have both been pre-season trials for the Chiefs.
Without the experience of club or provincial rugby behind him, the strapping youngster still showed as a starter in the Chiefs' midfield on Friday night in Rotorua that he was not out of place in some fairly esteemed company.
In fact he stood out and got a big tick from Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie.
"He's a good kid," said Rennie.
"He's only 18, so he's got a lot of rugby ahead of him and he's going to be very good, so the fact he has had so much game time in our trials has been great for him and he did a job for us today."
Leinert-Brown said last year was a write-off for him.
"But in saying that, if I didn't put the hard work in then I don't think I'd be here today.
"Chiefs mana is about hard work and Smithy [Wayne Smith], Renns [Rennie], Straws [Andrew Strawbridge] and Tom [Coventry] have put a lot of faith in me, and I think the hard work I've put in is why they've picked me.
"I look at all the top guys and they work hard, so I just want to base myself on that going forward."
Leinert-Brown first dislocated his right shoulder playing his last game for Christchurch Boys' High and when he dislocated it again after training with the Chiefs development team, a full reconstruction was needed and that put him out for six months.
When he got 30 minutes against the Reds two weekends ago in Queensland, it was his first rugby game since school.
"It's awesome to actually get out there and actually play a game. I'm just so happy to be out there again, and obviously playing with the big names like Aaron [Cruden], Robbie [Fruean], Timmy [Nanai-Williams] and Liam [Messam] has definitely been a dream for me."
Leinert-Brown's plan for this year was to have "a bit of a development year" and catch up some lost ground, having missed playing in his first year out of school.
"But I suppose these injuries [that have sidelined a number of Chiefs second-fives] have fast-tracked it a bit."
Leinert-Brown said he was happy with his performance against the Blues in Rotorua but still had a few work-ons, especially in defence.
"But I'm in a great environment and now looking forward to working on those things and looking up to players like Robbie and Mils Muliaina to help me out in that area, and Smith's great too."
The youngster, who does not turn 19 until April, admitted he was pinching himself that it was real as he ran out among the big names in Rotorua on Friday night.
"This whole year has been a bit of a dream for me, running outside Aaron and alongside Robbie."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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