Departing prop Michael Bent believes Taranaki are the team to knock over four-time defending NPC champions Canterbury.
The usually reserved Bent, who leaves for Ireland at the end of the season to join up with Heineken Cup champions Leinster, was not shy with his prediction ahead of tomorrow's Ranfurly Shield challenge.
"It will be a bit more of a challenge but I think we are the team to knock them over," he said.
Bent, 26, spurned an offer to join the Crusaders two years ago, instead signing with the Hurricanes. While the opportunities for solid game time did not eventuate under Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett, the Hawera-born frontrower has no regrets about the decision he made.
"I don't think so," he said. "It was quite an attractive offer, given the quality of their side, but I think I made the right choice. I still think I got more game time than I would have if I went down there. I've never really looked back on it to be honest."
Despite many observers holding firm with the view that he was under-used by Hammett, especially in 2012, Bent holds no grudges.
Instead, he enjoyed the opportunities afforded him with one eye firmly on the Taranaki season and defending the Shield, something he was instrumental in his side winning last year.
He again shapes as a key figure, all 118kg of him, ahead of tomorrow's clash, especially with Canterbury appearing to have a weak spot with an inexperienced tight five.
His performance tomorrow, like Taranaki's opening three NPC games, will be monitored closely by Leinster.
"They are giving me a few things they want me to work on to improve my game and make me the sort of player they are after."
What they would have noticed was Bent carrying the ball a lot more, as well as putting in his usual top-drawer work at set piece and the breakdown.
"I think playing under Coops [Taranaki coach Colin Cooper], he paints a really clear picture of the expectations he has for me and the role he wants me playing, so it's really clear and it makes it really easy.
" I just back myself when the opportunity comes with the ball in hand."
The 40-game veteran also has been vocal within the Taranaki squad, especially when it comes to the scrum. He hasn't noticed a marked difference with the abbreviated scrum calls being trialled in the domestic competition.
"The new calls do make scrummaging a bit different," he said. "They feel quicker and it has sped the call up a bit because you used to have to sit there and wait for the call a bit more. But each ref is different with the speed of their call, so you really have to wait on them and make sure when you hear it we have a sharper hit."
Bent said while Taranaki had taken it "one game at a time" in 2012, there was no doubt Canterbury always loomed as the battle royal for the Shield.
"This is certainly one to get up for. It's going to be a big one and we really want to knock them over. In the past we might not have backed ourselves to beat Canterbury but now, with the team we've got, we've got a lot of belief we can."
- © Fairfax NZ News
Should there be bonus points in ITM Cup scoring?Related story: Bonus points make a mockery of premier competition