Young Chiefs hooker has come a long way

Last updated 05:00 18/02/2014
Rhys Marshall
PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ
LINING UP: Rhys Marshall has his eye on a big start to the Chiefs' season.

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Twelve months ago Rhys Marshall was the little known new kid on the block, plucked by the Chiefs from the New Zealand and Hawke's Bay under-20 teams as a young hooker understudy.

A year on Marshall, 21, has served a pretty impressive apprenticeship and because of injuries is the "senior" rake heading into the start of the Super Rugby season.

He and former New Zealand Under-20 team-mate Nathan Harris, who looks like inevitably replacing the injured Hika Elliot in the Chiefs squad, have carried the pre-season load and will be the hookers against the Crusaders this Friday night in Christchurch.

Former Samoa captain Mahonri Schwalger is a possibility to return next week after eye surgery, but he is also managing a knee injury after yet another off-season surgery on that.

In the meantime Marshall has happily accepted the extra responsibilities, having been a quick learner in his time at the Chiefs. His 40 minutes in the first half in the final pre-season trial against the Blues in Rotorua last Friday was particularly impressive.

"I'm excited," said Marshall. "The prospect of playing a lot more minutes this year really excites me and I've just got to get my head and body in the right space and really push forward.

"For me it's just about helping your mates out, especially Nate [Harris] who I came through 20s with, and just passing on what I've learnt in one year and Mo [Schwalger] doing the same with his 12 years.

"You think back where you were 12 months ago and just to think I thought I was a good footy player back then and now the little growths you make they make you feel more comfortable at this level," he said.

Marshall missed out on last year's trip to Christchurch to play the Crusaders but he remembers how "gutted" his team-mates were on their return from a 43-15 defeat.

"So I'm really psyched to go down there and showing them what this [Chiefs] family means to all of us," he said.

Marshall admits things went pretty well for him and the team against the Blues in Rotorua, including a stunning clean break from a clockwork-perfect lineout move that set up Liam Messam's try.

"Everything seemed to flow and it was a spectacular feeling," Marshall said.

Hooking between massive props Jamie Mackintosh and Ben Tameifuna in the scrums had "felt secure to say the least".

"It was pretty encouraging to do your best between two big fellas like that. You've got everything going forward and you just follow through - it's pretty special mate."

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The return of All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick had helped a big improvement in the lineouts against the Blues and Marshall said there was a bit of trust starting to build in that area.

"Just trusting my lock to call me space and I've just got to put the ball there."

Having a tall No 8 like Kane Thompson and a back-up lock in the form of two-metre, 117kg Matt Symons meant plenty of tall timber to aim for.

Marshall fits in perfectly with the Chiefs' team culture.

"The thing about this place is you can be yourself. I'm a bit of an energiser almost and a few guys I've been in teams with in the past got fed up with me pretty quick, but here they embrace it and feed off it almost.

"It's pretty awesome to be able to be yourself and be around a bunch of mates," he said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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