Winning the revamped Super Rugby competition will mean just as much to Aaron Cruden as the two he's won previously.
The former All Black played a starring role for the Chiefs during their back-to-back title wins in 2012-13.
Cruden, 31, was a surprising off-season recruit for coach Warren Gatland and looked in vintage form during the opening month of the season.
The COVID-19 pandemic seemed likely to cut short his New Zealand stint, due to contract commitments in Japan starting July.
But Cruden, the Chiefs and his Japanese club were able to work out a deal to ensure he remained in New Zealand for Super Rugby Aoeteroa, meaning the Palmerston North native is all in for the revamped competition.
The 50-test first-five is looking forward to the daunting task of eight NZ derbies in 10 weeks.
"As a competitor, it would mean everything," Crudes says. "That's why we play the game.
"In a way, it could mean a little bit more, because this has never been seen before in this format.
"In 10 weeks, if we can be crowned champions, I think it will feel pretty special."
On Monday, Cruden and the Chiefs hit the training park for the first time in two months, along with the four other NZ franchises.
The abridged pre-season involves four weeks of preparation, before the season kicks off on June 13, when the Chiefs travel to Dunedin to take on the Highlanders.
Cruden insists it's "awesome" to be back training in a team environment.
"We were in HQ this morning and got run through all the protocols, and then we were let loose into the gym to get a little bit of work done.
"You could certainly see the smiles on the faces. We realise we are in a fortunate position to be back in the rugby environment, but you can see all the boys are happy to be back together and to rip into things."
The new-look local format could be an indication of Super Rugby's future.
With NZ Rugby and fellow SANZAAR members lexamining ways to cut costs and re-ignite interest in the game, nothing is off the table for 2021 and beyond.
Cruden isn't sure what the future brings, both personally or for the competition, but he knows he can't wait to get back on the park with and against his mates.
"You're playing against good friends, quality world-class players, week in and week out.
"There is always that little bit of extra spice, when you play the other New Zealand teams, so for us, we are really excited by the concept.
"Me personally, I have a rough plan [on his playing future], but it isn't out there yet. I think over the next month or so, that will become a little more public
"First and foremost, it's about focusing on the next 10 weeks and then we will take whatever comes after that."
Cruden was able to keep himself in pretty good nick during the nationwide lockdown, but he admits getting a bit of a scare five minutes into the first training session.
"There was fat testing first thing this morning, so that got everyone's attention, but most of the boys looked pretty good."
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