Western Force second-rower Sam Wykes has put the nightmare of an injury-riddled 2012 behind him and is ready to emerge from the shadow of former Force and Wallabies captain Nathan Sharpe.
A hamstring problem followed by ankle damage and finally a season-ending knee injury that required a reconstruction restricted Wykes to three games last season.
It was difficult to digest after his breakout season two years ago when he played all 16 Super games, making the starting side in all but two, and was tipped as a potential bolter for the Wallabies by former coach Richard Graham.
"It was a very frustrating season," Wykes said. "It started off with a couple of niggling injuries and then bang, all of a sudden I needed a knee reconstruction."
"There were obviously things that happened last year that we couldn't control but there are a lot of positives around the place now.
"There are a lot of new faces around the joint. It is like a breath of fresh air."
Friday night's Super season opener against the Melbourne Rebels is crucial for the Force, who will head to South Africa the morning after for matches against new team Southern Kings, based in Port Ellizabeth, and the Bulls.
The Force have their fingers crossed that captain Matt Hodgson could make an earlier than expected return from a hamstring strain and lead the side out against the Kings in Port Elizabeth.
"Every game is really a must-win but this one is particularly important. We want to start well and it's always good to have the 'W' in the win column," Wykes said.
He was pleased to come through both trials against the Brumbies and a Tonga side unscathed.
"I'm ready to go, the lungs were hurting a fair bit and I was little bit sore but it was good to get a blow-out," Wykes said.
"I'm confident moving into the Rebels game that we are ready to go."
Wykes served his apprenticeship under line-out maestro Sharpe and before his injury-hit year, had become almost a fixture next to his captain in the second-row.
With Sharpe retired, Wykes will be expected to take more of a lead at the line-outs where he will be making the all-important calls with fellow second-rower Toby Lynn.
"We've been sharing the responsibility in both training and the trials and regardless of who makes the calls I'm confident we'll get it right," Wykes said. "Walking in Sharpie's shadow, his influence, his wealth of knowledge, you can't help but learn from him."
Wykes made his Force Super Rugby debut in 2008 after starring for Australia in the IRB Junior World Cup, but needed off-season shoulder surgery and missed the first six matches of 2009. He was further hampered by a quad injury the following year.
"Walking in Sharpie's shadow, his influence, his wealth of knowledge, you can't help but learn ...""Western Force second-rower *Sam Wykes *