Brodie is back: Rejuvenated Retallick puts the game on notice

With just one match under his belt after a six-month hiatus, rugby fans could be slightly forgiven for losing sight of the uniquely superhuman threat posed by Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick.

Before the season-opener against the Crusaders, the former World Rugby Player of the Year hadn't featured since that All Blacks win over the Springboks in Albany, stepping away from the game altogether after tragedy struck his young family.

Friday night's virtuoso performance against the Bulls was a timely reminder of the otherworldy presence he brings to any rugby field.

The All Blacks colossus almost singlehandedly dismantled the Bulls in helping the Chiefs erase a 14-point halftime deficit, bagging two tries himself, one of which made a mockery of the number on his back and left even Retallick himself in a state of shock.

"I'm not too sure where that came from - it sort of just happened," the 26-year-old told Newshub.

"There was no way I was going to step the last guy, so it was all or nothing to try to just get over the top."

In fact, his total for metres-gained were the highest of any Chiefs player not named Damian McKenzie.

With his body rested and primed by an extended off-season, Brodie isn't just back - he may be even better than ever.

"The body's in good shape and the fitness is right up there with where it's been before, and hopefully I'm a little bit wiser than I have been the past few years.

"Obviously not playing the end of last year, I got a little bit more work in pre-season than what I have done in the past, because I've had a bit of a longer break. On the whole, I'm pretty positive about where I'm at."

Taht's as emphatic a statement of form as you may get from the mild-mannered Cantabrian, who insists he isn't doing anything differently, simply focussing on the basics and allowing the pieces to naturally fall into place.

"It's just working hard during the week, and knowing what my role is within the team and phase play.

"If you nail during the week, you can go out there at game time, not really have to think about it and just play rugby. I guess that kind of becomes a bit instinctive after a few years."

It seems, as Retallick goes, so do the Chiefs. Just ask his teammates.

"He's super-consistent and we can always trust in him to bring his best game," says midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown. "Having him out there makes us a better team, we're just very fortunate to have him.

"I just think he's a world class player, if not the best going around at the moment."

Chiefs players celebrate Retallick's first try against the Bulls.
Chiefs players celebrate Retallick's first try against the Bulls. Photo credit: Photosport

As for the men from the Waikato, their shaky start is giving way to glimpses of trademark form, despite being hobbled by widespread injury that has bordered on crisis.

It's resulted in plenty of the squad's less experienced players being thrust into the fire, the long-term benefits of which Retallick believes can't be understated.

"The boys are learning, some are only in their first year in Super Rugby and getting some consistent starts.

"It's all about learning from the first half, where we didn't probably quite get it right and we've acknowledged that

"It's a long season, so as long as we learn as we go then hopefully we'll be at the right end come August."

This week, the Chiefs travel to Japan to face the eternally struggling Sunwolves in a contest Retallick views as a 'banana-peel' affair, and he refuses to be undone by any under-estimation of the fledgling Tokyo-based team.

"In the past couple of years, teams have gone up there and expected to do it easy, but they were unlucky not to win in the weekend.

"I think they're playing a great brand of rugby."

With a long and arduous season in its infancy, and a heap of responsibility resting on his ample shoulders, Retallick is abiding by that old-fashioned edict of "one game at a time".

"I have my own goals and aspirations for 2018. It was a good start and I'll keep building from here."

You get the sense he's only just warming up.