Chris Smylie set to start Ranfurly Shield defence
Halfback Chris Smylie is likely to be thrown into a starting spot for Friday's Ranfurly Shield defence against Hawke's Bay, despite only playing 45 minutes of rugby in more than six months.
The 30-year-old was an impressive starter for the Taranaki development team in its 54-3 demolition of a Wellington development side on Saturday.
His return to the playing field followed months of rehabilitation after he underwent shoulder surgery following a serious bicep injury in the Hurricanes' final pre-season match against the Chiefs in February.
Smylie showed few signs of rustiness and reported no problems after his run for the development team.
While the Taranaki team will not be named until tomorrow morning, Smylie is expected to be pitched into the No 9 jersey at the expense of Jamison Gibson-Park, who did a good job against Bay of Plenty and Tasman.
Smylie, a former NZ Maori and Junior All Black, was the last man out on the training field yesterday as he practised his box kicking and was still there after many of his team-mates had showered and left Yarrow Stadium.
It's that professionalism and experience that makes him an appealing prospect for the Taranaki coaching staff, who are expecting another massive challenge from Hawke's Bay.
Physically, Smylie felt fine heading into last Saturday's curtain-raiser, though he admitted to being a bit nervous.
"Mentally, because I've had two shoulder reconstructions, I think I felt a little bit hesitant about going into contact but, after the first couple of tackles, I was fine," he said.
"The other stuff, the running and passing, that just came naturally and I'm fine now."
Smylie described his enforced injury break as a "blessing" with his time away giving him the opportunity to freshen physically.
He is now dead keen to get out and defend the shield, something he has never done.
He was at Otago when North Harbour enjoyed their brief tenure in 2006 and 2007.
And he was the North Harbour skipper when his side were beaten 25-23 in their challenge against Southland in Invercargill last year.
"We did Taranaki a favour last year when we lost it when the referee awarded that try that no-one could see," he said.
"Although I've never won it, it would be awesome at the end of the season if I could say I helped Taranaki keep it."
Smylie has had no problems fitting into the Taranaki environment.
"It's a lot different to the other teams I've been at," he said. "It's a lot more of a community-based team and the boys are a lot more tight-knit. It makes a big difference."
Meanwhile, All Blacks and Hawke's Bay wing Zac Guildford has been ruled out of Friday's match with a hamstring injury.
Taranaki Daily News