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Wheeler feeling positive for 2016

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Lynn McConnell     20 Feb 2016     Getty Images

That eight-week injury last year saw Mark Reddish and Alex Ainley claim the starting lock berths so Wheeler sees himself behind the eight ball and needing to put in the work to regain a starting position.

"I'm just trying to work on the little things in my game, a few things around the contact area that I've been focusing on in the off-season so hopefully I can take a little bit of that.

"I felt my form was pretty good through the ITM Cup so I'll take some confidence out of that and just hopefully build on it through the year and if I get an opportunity to take it with both hands.

"I want to grow every week and try and get better because everyone still has the dream of pulling on the black jersey and if you don't have that dream you should be heading off shore or looking to do something else. So you want to try to play your best footy week in week out," he told allblacks.com.

Like all of his team-mates he is shrugging off any notions of resting on last season's laurels or going into the season with a feeling of oneupsmanship as a result of their championship status.

"We haven't really thought about it," he said.

"We always had a real belief in our side. Everyone else doubted us but we knew we had a good team and we had a lot of trust in each other and a lot of trust in the coaching staff and the plans they put in place. And I think that is all you can ask for in a rugby side.

"If you've got collective buy-in across the board, from the head coach to the guy who doesn't play much but who is at every training, then you're going to have a bloody successful year and that's what we had last year.

"All that we can control is to try and replicate that as best we can this year and fingers crossed we get the same result," he said.

There was a degree of confidence borne out of having achieved success but that was the same for most who had been through a campaign together.

"You understand each other pretty well and it creates a pretty tight brotherhood and we'd die for each other and there is a lot of trust there.

"That is pretty good but we share our views across the board especially in the pack where there is a lot of sharing of the load and everyone feels they can input into what goes ahead with the planning side of things. That is something quite unique, it is not dominated by any one coach or any one player," he said.

The changed nature of the draw and the fact they won't play so many teams was not really an issue.

"There will be some frustrations but rugby teams focus week to week and that's as far as you look really and you put your preparations into that next week's games.

"It's the coaches' job to look big picture but for us it's 'who have we got next week and how do we beat them?'

"So it doesn't really affect us too much and we just try to play our best football every week. But it's pretty simple, we've just got to win the conference or come second and get one of those wild cards," Wheeler said.