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Super 14
Shoemark aims to lead from the front
NZPA
February 18, 2009
The Highlanders' Jason Shoemark races away to score a try, Blues v Highlanders, Super 14 pre-season match, North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand, February 5, 2009
Shoemark is hoping the Highlanders can get back to winning ways against the Hurricanes © Getty Images
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Stand-in captain Jason Shoemark believes he is playing the best rugby of his career but he knows he and the Highlanders will need to be at the top of their game against the Hurricanes in Wellington on Friday night.

"We are really going to have to be on our game," Shoemark said. "You never know with the Hurricanes. They can take any team apart and they can have a bit of an off-day.

"Their game against the Waratahs looked a bit messy, to be honest, but I don't think they'll play that badly twice. We're not expecting them to have an off-day against us so it's about us taking our opportunities. We've got to believe we can win these games -- just get out there and do it."

Both teams are on the rebound after the Hurricanes suffered a 22-26 home loss to the Waratahs and the Highlanders succumbed, 31-33, after a last-minute dropped goal by the Brumbies.

"There was a mixture of frustration and disbelief after the game," Shoemark said. "The dressing room was pretty quiet."

Shoemark, 28, captained the Highlanders for the last 50 minutes after injuries to captain Jimmy Cowan and vice-captain Jamie Mackintosh and takes over the leadership after both were ruled out of Friday night's game. Sean Romans, who will make his run-on debut, replaces Cowan at halfback and Chris King comes in for prop Mackintosh.

Left wing Fetu'u Vainikolo, who faces a misconduct hearing, has been bracketed with Kendrick Lynn. The Brumbies match was the first time Shoemark had captained a team since he led the New Zealand Colts in 2002.

"It was good. It was quite hard trying to communicate with the referee from midfield but the boys responded quite well. We had that dead patch in the middle of the game.

"I kept telling the guys `we've just got to get our hands on the ball' and they did that and rallied strongly towards the end."

Shoemark was pleased the Highlanders scored five tries but disappointed they conceded four. "In recent years the Highlanders have struggled to score tries but they've been coming in the pre-season and they did against the Brumbies. What we have to do is tighten our defence."

Shoemark, who played 37 games for his native Northland and 13 for Otago, has rejuvenated his career in Hawke's Bay during the past two seasons.

"The last two years have been good for me," he said. "I think it's a confidence thing. When I was younger I was quite shy and tentative and didn't have that self-belief. Now I'm trying to bring that self-belief to the Highlanders."

He was given a leadership role with Hawke's Bay and named, with Mackintosh, as one of the Highlanders' two vice-captains. Shoemark believes he is a much better player than when he played for Otago in 2004-05 and the Highlanders in 2005.

He spent nine months with his neck in a brace after an injury in Hawke's Bay club rugby and, during that period of inactivity, he resolved to give rugby one last shot. He has trained hard and he now weighs about 90kg, 12kg less than when he was last in Dunedin.

"I feel fitter and that helps the pace, too, which is good. I think I'm more mature and, I suppose, having a leadership role with Hawkes Bay and now with the Highlanders, has give me more confidence. I feel that I actually belong to the team."

Shoemark still has his ambitions in New Zealand rugby. "That's why I've stayed here so long and haven't gone overseas. It would be great to get some sort of higher honours. I don't know if or when it will happen but I've signed to the end of 2010 so I'll give it a good crack."

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