He’s still got that trademark smile and jovial attitude, but there is a steelier edge to Blues livewire Rene Ranger this season.
One of only two backs remaining from last year’s campaign, the 26-year-old is heading into his fifth campaign with the Blues in 2013 and has stepped us as a leader amongst a young and enthusiastic group.
“JK’s put more of a leadership role on me this year as I’m getting to that veteran stage with the Blues in the backline,” Ranger said.
“Piri and I are the only ones here from last year but then again you’ve got all these young guys coming in, they’ve got good feet, they’re fast and I need to set the example by playing well.”
But that’s not going to deter Ranger from expressing his comical character.
Always one for a practical joke and a laugh, Ranger said he would strike a balance between having fun and getting down to business.
“I’m a joker and I always like to smile and keep the boys happy but there’s a balance where you’ve got to be serious as well. The young boys are really into it and they want to learn so hopefully when I speak up some of the stuff I say gets through.
“That used to be me, you either listen or you don’t but then again it may help you play better rugby. I’ve done that in the past with the likes of Rox (Joe Rokocoko), Ant Tuitavake and Isaia Toeava who really helped my game so hopefully I can do the same with this new generation of Blues players coming through.”
Whilst mentoring some of the new faces in the Blues backline, Ranger has also been working hard on his own game during the off-season.
His boxing match in December’s Fight for Life has seen the Northland star return to pre-season in the best shape he’s ever been in.
He’s fitter than ever, he’s lost weight while maintaining his strength and he’s clocking some of the fastest times over 10 metres for his position in New Zealand.
And when he talks about position, that’s centre.
Shifting between the midfield and different wings last season, Ranger is focussing on making the number 13 jersey his own in 2013.
“This year I’ve had a yarn with JK and I’m keen to play centre and try to cement that spot. I want to get better at it so hopefully I get to play a bit more centre this season.”
With stocks thinning in the midfield for the All Blacks, there are huge opportunities for Ranger to reclaim the Black jersey he wore on three occasions in 2010.
“It’s always a goal to get back in that black jersey,” Ranger said.
“I missed out after ITM Cup for the end of year tour last year but that’s rugby for you. The key thing is to try and play well for the Blues, make them look good, hopefully make yourself look good and then you never know you might get those higher honours with the All Blacks.”