Blues Coach Leon MacDonald has confirmed his 40-strong Super Rugby squad, with 26 of the players from the 2019 season returning with another 4 signings who have come through the Blues development system or been part of the team before.
16 of the 22-strong forwards are returning, led by All Blacks Patrick Tuipulotu, Ofa Tuungafasi, Karl Tu’inukuafe and Dalton Papalii, centurion James Parsons and outstanding loose forwards Blake Gibson, Akira Ioane and Tom Robinson, who enjoyed a superb debut Super season.
Experienced hookers Kurt Eklund (Bay of Plenty), and Samoan international Ray Niuia (Tasman) both return to their Auckland roots.
Uncompromising provincial locks James Tucker (Waikato) and Baden Wardlaw (Bay of Plenty) join the middle row stocks.
Back row of Gibson, Ioane, Papalii, Robinson and Hoskins Sotutu will be augmented by New Zealand under-20 rep Waimana Riedlinger-Kapa (Auckland), a Blues apprentice, and USA International Tony Lamborn, who has played in Hawkes Bay and Southland along with 22 appearances for the Eagles.
Tasman’s Finlay Christie returns to the Auckland region to join Sam Nock and Jonathan Ruru at halfback, while Stephen Perofeta re-joins first-fives Harry Plummer and Otere Black after a season out with injury. They will be joined by Beauden Barrett, who arrives mid-season, and rookie Jack Heighton, an exciting young North Harbour prospect.
Rieko Ioane, TJ Faiane and Tanielu Tele’a return to fill the midfield, with Rieko keen to move in from the wing this season. They’ll be supported with the arrival of exciting English international Joe Marchant on sabbatical to balance the loss of Caleb Clarke, who’ll join the New Zealand Sevens Olympic campaign.
Matt Duffie returns as outside back and will be joined by former Blues replacement, Jordyn Hyland, who has been rewarded for outstanding form for Northland and in his previous appearances with the club.
There is excitement in two young running talents - North Harbour’s Mark Telea, another to come through the Blues system, and Fijian wing/fullback Emoni Narawa. North Harbour’s Jared Page, a talented allrounder who has been beset by injury in recent years, has been included as a utility.
Full Squad List
Beauden Barrett, Otere Black, Finlay Christie, Caleb Clarke, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Matt Duffie, Kurt Eklund, TJ Faiane, Blake Gibson, Josh Goodhue, Jack Heighton, Alex Hodgman, Jordan Hyland, Akira Ioane, Rieko Ioane, Tony Lamborn, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Sione Mafileo, Joe Marchant, Emoni Narawa, Ray Niuia, Sam Nock, Jared Page, Dalton Papalii, James Parsons, Stephen Perofeta, Jacob Pierce, Harry Plummer, Marcel Renata, Waimana Riedlinger-Kapa, Tom Robinson, Jonathan Ruru, Hoskins Sotutu, Mark Telea, Tanielu Tele’a, James Tucker, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ofa Tuungafasi, Baden Wardlaw.