Super Rugby Aotearoa may still be more than a month away, but teams are well and truly back into the swing of things.
The Blues' bid to go one better than last year's runner-up finish started nowhere near a rugby field, but with a trudge through waist deep mud at the Devonport naval base.
You'd be forgiven for thinking this was the middle of the rugby season, rather than before it's even started.
But it's summer in Auckland and the Blues are hardly easing into their pre-season training
"That was terrible, it was tough," says Blues first-five Harry Plummer. "That was pretty tough, worse than being in the dog box."
Just like any former player that turns to coach, coming up with brutal training sessions is the fun part of the job and it wasn't a shock that Leon MacDonald didn't get involved.
"I didn't bring the right attire, otherwise I'd be out there," chuckles MacDonald.
This stark change of scenery saw the Blues move from a Bronco test in the Auckland sun one day to wading through waist high mud in torrential rain the next.
"We're always trying to find different ways of hurting them," says MacDonald, who has certainly been successful in that.
"It goes right up to your belly," Plummer says. "You want to rest and every time you rest, you start sinking deeper and deeper."
The more-than-hour-long trudge pushed the team both physically and mentally, and anything slowing them down was deemed surplus to requirements.
But there is a method to the madness, as the franchise hunts for its first title in 18 years.
The Blues turned a corner in 2020, going close to winning Super Rugby Aotearoa, and MacDonald says the side need to acknowledge a new level of expectation.
"It's easy to be the underdog - that's probably the easiest place to be in sport - but when people are placing expectation on you, that's a different skill to learn how to cope with."
MacDonald will be pleased his squad coped okay with the waist deep mud to begin with and will hope that leads to positive things in Super Rugby.
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