Rookie boasts rich bloodlines
If enthusiasm can be transposed into performance, rookie Chiefs hooker Rhys Marshall should have little trouble stepping up to the demands of Super Rugby.
Within moments of being introduced over the phone, Marshall, 20, exudes excitement.
He's from "good stock", the older generation would say, with a bloodline well familiar to Taranaki rugby.
His grandfather, Les, represented Taranaki from 1955 through to 1957, his uncle, Donald, in 1993, while dad Ian was a tremendously hard player through the 1981 and 1982 seasons and again from 1986 until 1989.
While he has the pedigree, the younger Marshall does not have the experience.
He was plucked out of the Hawke's Bay under-20 side straight into the Chiefs after catching the eye of assistant coach Tom Coventry through his performances for the New Zealand Colts side.
Without any first-class experience, Marshall has been thrown in the deep end, although he has a first-rate tutor in Coventry and a couple of handy hookers to learn from in the shape of All Black Hika Elliot and former Samoa captain and Taranaki rep Mahonri Schwalger.
Nevertheless, the past couple of months have been a steep learning curve for the former New Plymouth Boys' High School First XV captain, who found out the Chiefs were interested in him as he finished a two-year course at Smedley Farm agricultural college in Tikokino, central Hawke's Bay.
"Pre-Christmas we had a big blowout with plenty of things to learn and now we are getting into our proper seasonal training," he said. "The training load might come down but your learning goes through the roof."
Having knocked off the unwanted tag of never having won a title, it appears confidence and a sense of belief has well and truly infiltrated the Chiefs camp.
Whether that makes a rookie's transition into the squad any easier is debatable, although Marshall reckons he has had no trouble fitting in.
"The thing that has amazed me is that nothing is too much trouble, everyone is willing to help and do everything they can to help the team," he said. "That's one thing I haven't experienced before. But like I say, I'm just taking it one step at a time and learning everything I can."
Having earlier wondered if his selection would be a "step too far" Marshall might not have lost his sense of awe but he's feeling well and truly at home.
"It's still surreal. Even with the amount of training that you do, to be rubbing up against Mo Schwalger, Ben Tameifuna and Brodie Retallick, who have done it before, that's something that still amazes me."
Marshall's potential is obvious. It certainly was for Taranaki coach Colin Cooper, who was keen to sign the youngster while he was in the province battling the union's colts side.
"He's New Zealand under-20, he's local and he ticked all the boxes for what we were looking for," Cooper said after announcing the union had signed him last year.
Playing age-group rugby and fronting some of the hardest, most committed men in the game on a weekly basis are two different beasts, however.
While "togetherness" is a big motto for the Chiefs, so is learning how to push themselves beyond their previous limits. It's something Marshall found out early.
"I came into here in good nick but I've pushed myself mentally and physically to places I didn't think I would have to go," he said.
"I've found out there is always a little bit extra. We are told there is always something there, you just have to find it, no matter how absolutely buggered you are - there is something there. It's what everyone here believes."
Unquestionably the amount of game time Marshall gets in Super Rugby will be dictated by the fitness of Schwalger and Elliot.
Given the normal attrition rate of the competition and the willingness of coaches to rotate through a demanding schedule, Marshall's time will come.
He will get a first taste of playing the "bigger boys" today when the Chiefs turn out in Taupo to face the Highlanders in their first pre-season match.
"I know I come into the team at No 3 [hooker] and that's where I sit at the moment," Marshall said.
"The good thing is Mo [Schwalger] and Hika don't see me as that, they see me as just a team-mate.
"Everyone knows the same things, there is no secrets, they don't try to hide anything and it's about who can put their best foot forward.
"It will be interesting to see how different the games are to training because the level of intensity at training has been second to none. I'll get my first opportunity on Saturday because Mo's knee is still not quite right, that's all I need, an opportunity, and I'm keen to take it."
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie will continue with the dual captaincy of Craig Clarke and Liam Messam for this year's Super Rugby competition.
The defending champions open their campaign with an away match against the Highlanders.
Taranaki Daily News