Dominic Bird can't wait to make his Super Rugby debut for the Chiefs against their arch rivals the Blues in Hamilton on Friday.
The 24-year-old lock left the Crusaders at the end of last season after struggling to get game time behind All Blacks Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano.
Bird then suffered another blow when he fractured his right foot during pre-season training in January and has been sidelined until now.
His chance has finally come with Chiefs coach Dave Rennie electing to rest the ever-present Michael Allardice with dropping Taleni Seu to the bench.
"It's special to put on the jersey. I'm really pumped for that on its own, and to get out there and be amongst the awesome footie we're playing at the moment is going to be great," Bird said.
The two-Test All Black knows he must make the most of his opportunities, given the way the other locks have stepped up in his absence.
"Michael has been playing really good and so has Leni. There is definitely pressure, you know, and an expectation you are going to perform," Bird said.
He is also looking forward to playing his first game at Waikato Stadium in front of a packed home crowd in the battle of the Bombay Hills.
"That will be an interesting one, thinking those cow bells are for me. It's a grudge match so it's going to be good."
Bird isn't taking the Blues lightly after they beat the Chiefs 24-12 with only 14 men in their pre-season match at Pukekohe.
"They have a heap of talent and their forward pack has shown they have real guts, so we are going to have to match that and go one better – play our game, but be smart about it," Bird said.
Friday's match against the Blues will also reunite Bird with Brodie Retallick for the first time since 2011, when they helped the New Zealand under-20 team win the world championship title in Italy.
Retallick returns from a four-week absence after he suffered a rib injury in the Chiefs' 36-32 round two loss to the Lions.