The Blues have named a largely home-grown squad with returning stars and a heavy accent on youth for the 2016 Super Rugby campaign.
The Blues squad for 2016 is:
Hookers: James Parsons (North Harbour), Matt Moulds (Northland), Quentin MacDonald (Tasman)
Props: Nic Mayhew (North Harbour), Sam Prattley (Auckland), Charlie Faumuina (Auckland), Ofa Tu’ungafasi (Auckland), Sione Mafileo (North Harbour), Namatahi Waa (Northland).
Locks: Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland), Gerrard Tuioti-Mariner (North Harbour), Hoani Matenga (Wellington), Josh Bekhuis (Southland), Scott Scrafton (Auckland).
Loose forwards: Jerome Kaino (Auckland), Blake Gibson (Auckland), Kara Pryor (Northland), Jack Ram (Northland), Steven Luatua (Auckland), Akira Ioane (Auckland), Joe Edwards (Auckland).
Halfbacks: Bryn Hall (North Harbour), Sam Nock (Northland), Billy Guyton (Tasman).
Inside backs: Ihaia West (Hawkes Bay) Matt McGahan (North Harbour), Dan Bowden (Northland), Piers Francis (Counties Manukau).
Midfield: George Moala (Auckland), Rene Ranger (North Harbour), Rieko Ioane (Auckland), TJ Faiane (Auckland), Michael Little (North Harbour).
Outside backs: Tevita Li (North Harbour), Ben Lam (Auckland), Melani Nanai (Auckland), Lolagi Visinia (Auckland), Matt Duffie (North Harbour), Jordan Trainor (Waikato).
The Blues have named a 39-man squad built strongly around the six senior players with All Blacks experience comprising captain Jerome Kaino, Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua, Patrick Tuipulotu, James Parsons and George Moala.
In particular the Blues welcome back Tuipulotu and Luatua after surgery which cut short their 2015 campaigns, while All Black and Blues favourite Rene Ranger makes a return after two seasons in France and recent neck surgery.
There is a strong accent on youth with several players 21 years old or younger. They include the NZ Sevens teenager Rieko Ioane, his brother Akira Ioane and fellow NZ Under-20s standout Blake Gibson, the in-form Melani Nanai and 2014 New Zealand Schools halfback Sam Nock.
Other young players to join include another notable NZ Under-20s representative TJ Faiane and 2014 New Zealand Schools outside back Jordan Trainor who returns home to the north after playing in the Waikato.
“We have probably picked more young guys than the other Super sides and those selections have been challenging because there are so many young players who have played well in the ITM Cup, but we just can’t pick them all,” said Blues head coach Tana Umaga.
“We are blessed to have such riches of young talent in this region. However they are all looking for the most immediate pathway and in some cases that has led them to look elsewhere when there are established players in their positions at the Blues.”
Thirty-three of the squad are from the Blues region with notable newcomers including Melbourne Storm fullback-wing Matt Duffie and Tongan World Cup player Jack Ram.
Umaga is pleased with the make-up of the squad.
“There has been a lot of detailed work gone into backgrounding a wide number of players and above all, establish which players have the right attitude and character to make a difference at the Blues,” Umaga said.
“The record of the club is there for everyone to see. Naming the squad is just the first step on a long road. There is so much hard work ahead every day not just over the 2016 season but over the coming years if we are to establish ourselves as a successful club.
“There’s no instant answer, just a lot of hard work from a dedicated group who are proud to be part of the Blues.”
While only Kaino and Ranger have played regularly at the highest level, Umaga said that players like Faumuina, Moala, Tuipulotu, Luatua and Ofa Tu’ungafasi are on the cusp of taking their game to higher levels.
The larger squad incorporates those in the Wider Training Group with further players to be added because of the anticipated involvement of several squad members with rugby sevens this year.