Five players to watch

Five players to watch

Yesterday, coach Tana Umaga unveiled a 38-man squad full of proven talent, rising stars and marquee signings.

 

We’re not ones to play favourites, but here’s five players we think our fans will want to follow in 2019.

 

Karl Tu’inukuafe

 

All Black number 1171 has made a truly remarkable rise.

 

The 25-year-old loosehead prop has signed his first full Super Rugby contract – a three-year deal with the Blues – after racking up 10 Tests for the All Blacks.

 

Having played 17 games for North Harbour until the end of 2017, Tu’inukuafe was called into the Chiefs early this season as they dealt with an injury crisis. He has not looked back, scrummaging powerfully and adding his impact around the field, firstly at Super level and then for the All Blacks after his June debut against France.

 

Furthermore, Tu’inukuafe is one of three finalists for World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year, to be decided in Monaco on November 25. Need someone to carry your bags Karl?

 

 

Tom Robinson

 

Tom is a young Northland Taniwha joining the Blues in 2019. He is a big man with a quick turn of pace who is comfortable at lock or loose forward.

 

Hailing from Kerikeri High School in the far north of New Zealand, Tom played his debut season for Northland in 2016. An unfortunate knee injury ruled him out of rugby for the entire 2017 Mitre 10 Cup season.

 

After displaying incredible resilience and professionalism, Tom made his return from injury for the Taniwha in 2018. Tom’s brand of rugby puts substance above style. He represents a hardworking, tough nosed and relentless approach to rugby.

His work rate and natural instinct in space were put on show in some eye catching performances for the Taniwha, helping them to their second consecutive finals series appearance in the Mitre 10 Cup Championship.

 

 

Otere Black

 

Sadly, fans never got to see our No 10 signing Otere Black in 2018.

 

A bad knee injury sustained late in the 2017 Mitre Cup for his Manawatu Turbos ruled him out of action for the entire Super Rugby season. But Black was professional with his attitude and diligent with his rehabilitation, making it back onto the field for six games with the Turbos and he flew out with the Maori All Blacks for their tour of the Americas.

 

His accurate goalkicking and sound game sense will be vital in 2019, where he will vie with Stephen Perofeta and Harry Plummer for the role of pivot.

 

 

Harry Plummer

 

Graduating from an interim training contract in 2018, Harry Plummer is fresh off a productive Mitre 10 Cup with Auckland in which he racked up the second most minutes for that team (831) and compiled 113 points.

 

His goalkicking under pressure, and his game management is growing in maturity. At just 20, Plummer has already achieved much since he made his Auckland debut at the tail end of 2017. The first five captained his Grammar TEC premier club side at just 18 and went on to play for the New Zealand Under 20 side this season.

 

Plummer, son of Auckland and former Blues physio Mark Plummer, will push hard for a starting position in 2019.

 

 

Patrick Tuipulotu

 

Lock Patrick Tuipulotu will look to hit the ground running in 2019 after an injury-plagued last couple of seasons.

 

The 25-year-old sailed past 50 caps in 2018 before a shoulder injury ruled him for several months. He made a rousing return for Auckland, scoring a hat-trick in a 56-minute cameo against Tasman in September. Back in the All Blacks, he made a telling impact, showing some of the power game and ball-winning ability that underpin his rugby during the latter stages of the Rugby Championship and the Northern Tour.

 

Tuipulotu will be keen to reassert himself at Super Rugby level and show he is the go-to man in our tight five.