All Blacks captain Kieran Read is set for big-time rugby again after returning from a long injury stint in humble surrounds.
Read played the first half for Counties Manukau on Wednesday in a pre-season provincial match at Manurewa Rugby Club, south of Auckland.
It was the 32-year-old's first hit-out since undergoing spinal surgery last December, having ended New Zealand's tour of Europe in considerable pain.
Read suggested he will be ready to lead the All Blacks in twin Bledisloe Cup Tests in August, assuming he has a problem-free run with the Super Rugby-leading Crusaders when he rejoins them next week.
"Today really was just to go out and get a bit of contact, take a few hits, make some tackles and really just enjoy the game," he said.
"It is going to be a step up going back to Super Rugby and it's up to the coaches to decide how they want to use me."
The 109-Test veteran reckoned seven months out of the game could ultimately prove invaluable as he preserves his frame for next year's World Cup.
He trained with the All Blacks this month during their 3-0 Test series sweep on June, when lock Sam Whitelock was skipper.
Read made the first tackle of the game in front of a packed crowd at the club venue and spent much of his 40 minutes on defence.