Highlanders flanker John Hardie is set to take his comeback from injury a step further in Friday's warm-up game with the Blues in Queenstown.
Hardie - who was on the sidelines with a fractured toe sustained during the early stages of last year's tournament - got through 50 minutes in his side's 38-21 victory over the Crusaders in Oamaru last weekend.
"I was a bit nervous," he told Sportal.
"I was anxious to see if I could still play rugby after so long out of the game.
"It felt much stronger. I wasn't thinking about it during the game as I was last time."
The 23-year-old returned to action for Southland in a pre-season game against Otago last August but played for just five minutes before injuring the toe again.
He underwent further surgery which meant he had to endure more frustration on the sidelines.
"It certainly tests your character when you have a season like last year," he added.
"It was frustrating but it gives you a view of the game from outside and it makes you very hungry to get back into it."
Hardie was in fine form before suffering the injury and with Adam Thomson gone he has become vital to the Dunedin-based franchise's cause.
"We're keen to get some good results this year," he said.
"There are some top-class players who have joined the squad and the team is shaping well."