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Masaga building slowly for Chiefs

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Sportal.co.nz     10 Apr 2013     Getty Images

Masaga admitted to a slow start to the season as the Waikato franchise had a solid-yet-unspectacular start to the season, winning five of their first six matches.

The one-time All Black put the tough start down to some new instructions from coach Dave Rennie that took some getting used to.

"As a winger I tended to sit on the wing and hope the ball comes to me, but this year's different," said Masaga.

"This year I've got my head around things and I've adjusted a few things."

Those changes include a desire to come off the wing where possible to provide a valuable attacking threat in the middle of the park, whether it be as a runner or a decoy to stretch defences further.

However, it was an overall change in philosophy – of keeping it simple – that has helped Masaga and his hunger.

"It's just little things, like working really hard to come off the wing, hovering around the midfield and trying to get more ball in hand."

With an increase in off-ball movement comes a need for greater fitness, something Masaga also increased in the off-season.

"I struggled a bit, purely because I was not as fit as I was. But this year was really just about working on my speed and cardio."

The result is a more consistent level of speed not hindered by an increase in off-ball movement.

Masaga's increased fitness could be tested by Reds and Australia winger Digby Ioane on Saturday afternoon, but the winger showed no signs of nonchalance when it came to playing in the weekend.

"I've played some of my best performances against that fulla," quipped Masaga.

"He's quick, he's strong and he's going to be a big strike weapon for them. It should be a big game this week for who's going to start."

Despite a comprehensive seven-point win over the Blues before a bye in Round 8, Masaga said a new-found rivalry with the Reds would ensure his side would train and perform with the same level of intensity as they had in Mount Maunganui two weeks earlier.

"They've got lots of names on the field and have kind-of a similar game plan. The Reds were the underdogs at one time and now have been champions."

"[Intensity] doesn't change because I think for us the Reds have beaten us three times.

"We've kinda struggled to maintain the performance that we need. We do well in the first half, and then as soon as they get a roll on it kind of shoves us down."

While yet to discover an 80-minute performance, the Chiefs have been boosted by the return of Richard Kahui. The centre was back to his best as he tore through the Blues backline to set up the 29-18 win.

That inclusion has meant positions are even more precious during the week, including Masaga's.

"Being able to be picked as a starting winger shows I'm doing something they've asked me to do."