After two months on the sidelines, and uncertainty about when rugby might return, New Zealand Super Rugby sides returned to the training grounds today for the first time.
Despite being in isolation for the past eight weeks with limited training opportunities, it seems the players didn't lack enthusiasm, nor energy as they were put through the paces.
The Blues reported at least eight players recorded personal bests in the gruelling Bronco fitness test, with new recruit Beauden Barrett allegedly posting a time of 4 minutes 12 seconds.
Down the road in Hamilton, the Chiefs also returned to their headquarters and hit the ground running. First five Aaron Cruden says the squad realised quickly the privileged position they found themselves in.
"I think everyone arrived with a fair bit of mixed emotion around it all too. Because we've obviously for the last couple of months been in isolation and we've been left to our own devices a little bit but coming back in, seeing familiar faces, understanding that we're not far away from what we love doing," he says.
Hurricanes coach Jason Holland also had his players running the dreaded Bronco, where a player runs shuttles of 20, 40 and then 60 metres, five times as quickly as possible, and he also says his players had no lack energy. Particularly the likes of livewire halfback TJ Perenara.
"Best way to describe it is when my kids were small and pissing rain for a couple of days and there's a bit of sun and they finally get out and they go mad. So the boys were in great form when they came in," Holland says.
"Everyone's pumped to be back and I think that mindset of not being able to play footy and not knowing when you can play footy again or get out and see your mates is driving us along."
The Chiefs last game was against the Hurricanes on March 13 which ended in a last-minute loss as Jordie Barrett slotted and injury-time penalty. While the break since then is longer than most pre-seasons for the players, that loss is still helping the Chiefs as they prepare for 10 weeks of tough local derbies against the other NZ teams.
"It feels like it's been a long time since that hit out. so I think for us we are pretty keen and eager to get back to work and probably just right a few wrongs that we felt we made during that game. But in saying that it's almost like a fresh start, it's like a new competition about to kick off," he says.
The Chiefs opening game of Super Rugby Aotearoa will see them take on the Highlanders, who last week added one of Cruden's Manawatū and All Black teammates, Nehe Milner-Skudder to their squad. Cruden Milner-Skudder does make his long-awaited return from a shoulder injury that has kept him off the field for the best part of two years,
"Just very happy for him. Hopefully, if he plays we can contain him as much as possible it might be difficult but yeah, from a personal point of view just really happy to see him finding his feet again and yeah getting back out there," Cruden says.
A month out from kickoff, the players returning to training is another sign that professional sport is one step closer to returning.