Smylie primed for prominent role at Hurricanes
Veteran halfback Chris Smylie knows the attention won't be on him when the Hurricanes kick off their pre-season next week, and he's more than happy with that.
The 32-year-old was primed for a prominent role with the under-fire Hurricanes last year, only to have his Super Rugby season end before the competition started when he tore his bicep.
Surgery to correct the problem started a lengthy rehabilitation programme as rookie T J Perenara grabbed the spotlight through some impressive performances. But he, too, fell victim to a season-ending injury, breaking his leg in a "friendly" match during the June international window.
"I know there is a lot of media attention on T J and that's probably good for me," he said. "I'm flying in under the radar and I kind of feel like there is no pressure on me, even though there is a lot at this level, it's not on me. Who knows what can happen."
Smylie's return to rugby last season was slow, as Taranaki coach Colin Cooper gave him time to work through the demands of first-class rugby, selecting him for just five of his side's 11 NPC matches.
He credits the way he was managed through the NPC for the shape he enters 2013.
"It's probably the best nick I've been in for a very long time and, fingers crossed, I can get through the season," he said. "I feel like I'm the fittest I've ever been at any stage of my life. I'm not just talking that up, I realise I'm no spring chicken, but that's honestly how I feel."
The diligent rehab he put in after surgery has not only seen a shoulder issue disappear but also hamstring, lower back and hip flexor problems go by the wayside. On the cusp of signing an overseas contract last year before injury struck, Smylie has reset his goals.
"I still feel like I've got some unfinished business and I haven't fulfilled some goals, so I'm happy I'm staying in New Zealand. I want to play well at Super Rugby level. I just want a really good, decent season and be satisfied within myself."
Joining Perenara and Smylie in the Hurricanes' halfback ranks is Northland No 9 and Tonga international Samisoni Fisilau, whose 106kg frame makes him an imposing figure at the base of the scrum.
While common sense points to Perenara being first choice, it will be interesting to see how Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett uses the other halves at his disposal.
"I think Hammer [Hammett] has got the mix right because we do play contrasting styles," Smylie said.
Those styles will be put to the test when the Hurricanes travel to Timaru on February 2 to play the Crusaders.