Jarrad Hoeata will put friendship to one side when the Highlanders start their 2013 Super Rugby campaign against the Chiefs in Dunedin on Friday.
The three-test All Black will oppose and Chiefs co-captain Craig Clarke at Forsyth Barr Stadium just weeks after he was best man at the lock's wedding.
"We've played together a lot for Taranaki so it will be interesting to play against him. We're great mates, but we'll be going toe to toe on Friday," he said.
Hoeata, 29, enters the season with much to prove after a subdued last year where he failed to recapture the dynamic form of 2011 which saw him earn All Blacks honours.
"I had a slow start to 2012 and I didn't quite reach the form of the previous year," he conceded after a pectoral muscle injury hampered his preparation.
This year his pre-season has been much smoother and he is eyeing a return to the black jersey.
"I really loved my time with the All Blacks in 2011 and I got that chance just from playing well with the Highlanders and it would be great to get another chance."
The Highlanders have won only one of their pre-season matches, losing to the Chiefs in Taupo, but he is optimistic about their prospects.
"It's hard to gauge anyone's form in the pre-season. I don't take a lot of notice of the results.
"The pre-season is more about combinations and getting game-time under your belt and that has been really beneficial to us."
"Team-wise, it (the goal) is definitely to win the competition. We see ourselves as contenders."
Injuries have blighted the Highlanders' preparations with Tamati Ellison out for most of the season, Colin Slade still working his way back to fitness and a host of niggles, but Hoeata said the players were taking the setbacks in their stride.
"We're used to it now and we just get on with it."