Captain Luke Braid headlines a quartet of Blues players who have recommitted to the franchise.
Braid, fellow flanker Brendon O’Connor and wing Frank Halai have all signed one year deals with the Blues while halfback Bryn Hall has re-signed until the end of 2016.
25-year-old Braid was a consistently high performer this season despite carrying a shoulder injury for most of the year and said he still had high ambitions in New Zealand.
“I’m still incredibly motivated to win something with the Blues and continue to try and make the All Blacks,” Braid said.
“I’ve been through the good times with the Blues in my first year when we made the semis, hit rock bottom the following year and we’ve been working our way back up since then. I feel we’re heading in the right direction and am keen to stick around and keep working hard to achieve our goals.”
Braid had surgery on his right shoulder two weeks ago and is expected to have surgery on his left shoulder next month, meaning he will miss the ITM Cup with Auckland but will be fit and available for the start of the Blues’ 2015 campaign.
24-year-old O’Connor, who was recently named captain of his ITM Cup side the Hawke’s Bay Magpies, said: “I’ve really enjoyed my time with the Blues. I’m just looking to get as much game time as I can next year and I think the Blues is the best place for me to do that.
“Having Braidy here as well means there’s stiff competition. We keep challenging each other and that can only be good for us and for the team. I’m just going to keep pushing my case for selection and keep taking the opportunities I get.”
Braid and O’Connor join All Blacks Jerome Kaino and Steven Luatua as flankers who are still under contract with the Blues.
After playing just one game last year as injury and illness scuppered his season, Bryn Hall was a revelation for the Blues in 2014, performing extremely well to usurp veteran All Black Piri Weepu as the number one halfback.
22-year-old Hall said he was thrilled to re-sign with the Blues.
“It’s been a good learning experience this year,” Hall said.
“Last year was really disappointing but coming into this season I had a strong mindset of trying to make the side and I was quite fortunate to get a few starts and then push on. Obviously it was pretty disappointing from a team point of view that we weren’t able to achieve what we set out to but personally I feel I’ve become a much better player.
“I’ve always wanted to play for the Blues since I can remember and have always supported them. There’s a great culture developing here and we’ve set some big goals for ourselves. We weren’t able to achieve them this year but it’s our motivation to return the Blues to where they need to be – at the top.”
Frank Halai joins Charles Piutau and Lolagi Visinia as back three players who are under contract with the Blues and said he was keen to re-discover the form that saw him become an All Black in 2013.
“I’m really pleased to recommit to the Blues, it’s a great team with a lot of good mates. I’m still very motivated to get back in the All Blacks and help lead the Blues to success next season.”
The re-signing of these players is fantastic news for Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan.
“It’s really good to re-sign Braidy and Brendon together, they’re both outstanding young men and very good players,” Kirwan said.
“We need to be able to play Brendon more so he gets more game time. He’s a player with a big future in the Blues and with Braidy coming off his shoulder surgeries, we don’t know if he’ll be ready in time for the start of the season so it’s a really important time for Brendon to get in there and really put pressure on us and Braidy.
“Bryn is also a great signing for us. He’s been a real find this year but if you’re behind the scenes and watching how hard he works on his game there’s a reason why he’s had success this year and we’re looking for him to kick-on next season.
“I’m really excited about Frank. He had a great first year for us and is one of our attacking weapons. He’s one of the most exciting athletes in our organisation so I’m looking forward to him scoring some more Blues tries in 2015.”