Midfielder Jack Goodhue will almost certainly play his first World Cup match when the All Blacks take on Canada in Oita on Wednesday following his recovery from a hamstring strain.
And if his appearance in a press conference alongside Sonny Bill Williams is any guide, Goodhue, 24, hasn't lost any confidence during his lay-off since he suffered the injury in the defeat against the Wallabies in Perth last month.
His good spirits are no doubt pegged to his impending return – the All Blacks team will be announced on Monday. The centre also now appears as comfortable off the field as he is on it despite facing a big media contingent in Beppu.
After making fun of his mullet hairstyle and the first time he'd heard of Williams, Goodhue spoke of the closeness he feels with the former league star and other midfield teammates Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown, a combination as competitive and yet as tight as any other in this team.
"Yeah it would be my first World Cup game so of course [I'm excited]," Goodhue said. "This is the peak. I want to play and of course it's been a while – since Perth in a Bledisloe Cup game, a hamstring injury which seemed to drag out, frustrating as it was. It's feeling really good now.
"I'm confident. It has felt like that for a while and I was just making sure of it. Now I just want to get out there and play. It's more about the mental side of things when you haven't played for a while."
A bout of glandular fever 12 months ago stopped Goodhue's momentum after he made his All Black debut earlier in the year against France and if anything the enforced break may have been good for him.
"It taught me patience but also that hardship showed that when you come out of it you're still the same player you were," Goodhue said. "Sometimes when you're out of the game for a couple of months you start to doubt yourself."
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There's little chance of that happening now. The Crusaders midfield linchpin has been an automatic All Black selection this year and is part of a midfield mix which could cut the Canadians open in Oita.
Goodhue's distributing skills and ability to make good decisions have made him a favourite with the selectors and the rise and rise of the durable and adaptable Lienert-Brown should drive him to further heights.
"Jack, he's a very physical player," Williams said. "You know he's going to bring that, but he's pretty skillful as well … he's been out for a while but he hasn't lost any confidence as you can tell."
After suggesting, tongue in cheek, that he was one of the more skillful players in the team, Goodhue was asked when he first heard the name Sonny Bill Williams, now one of the most recognisable in the rugby and league world.
"The first I heard of Sonny [was] when me and my twin brother played one of my older brothers in two versus one league. My older brother ran in and gave me a big shoulder charge, which was allowed back then in league. And then he yelled 'Sonny Bill'! And I was like 'what just happened'? That was the first time I'd heard of him.
"Back in 2011 it was awesome to watch him," Goodhue said of his teammate. "To play with him now, he's so composed on the field, I'm always trying to run off his shoulder to pick up the plums. And off the field he's such a good guy – that's what makes him special."
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