Season goals still an incentive for Blues

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Lynn McConnell     01 Jun 2018     Getty Images

Pride was only one factor in their approach and there were still things they wanted to achieve in the remainder of the season, coach Tana Umaga said.

The Blues understood that not having performed well at home the Rebels would come to Eden Park looking for a win that would allow them to keep the pressure on the Australian Conference where they sit second to the Waratahs.

"They've been very good, right from the start of the season. They've had a couple of drops in form but they are coming right if you look right across their squad. They've got quality players throughout so that's going to be tough for us but again that's the challenge that we all should be looking forward to and walking towards," he said.

The Blues would be looking to up their effort and the return of loosehead prop Alex Hodgman would be a boost for the pack.

Also returning is fullback Michael Collins who also extended his contract with the side this week.

Umaga said Collins was a player who was trusted by all the side and was a key communicator from the back which was something the side relied on.

"He brings great energy in terms of his form and what he can do. The skill base that he has is great for us and he's become a bit of a leader for our players as well because he makes good decisions and he drives standards for us.

"In terms of all those things and what we are trying to build here he really epitomises what we are," he said.

However, the side will be without wing Rieko Ioane whose unbroken time on the field for the side this season has been halted by the demands of the All Blacks protocol and the rest time required for players. There was also a question mark over second five-eighths Sonny Bill Williams after he took a knock to his knee at the All Blacks camp this week.

Injury had also created something of a developing issue at openside flanker for the Blues with the way in which Dalton Papalii had come in as a replacement while Blake Gibson has battled with injuries in the last two seasons.

It was something that would come up in the future, Umaga said. Gibson was not far from being ready to return but at the same time it was impossible to ignore the form that Papalii had shown.

"He's one of our form players and he's doing everything that we're asking of him so it'll be a tough decision when that time comes," he said.

Papalii's ability had not surprised him. His career track had shown his potential. He didn't step back from much and he loved a challenge, Umaga said.

"We've just got to make sure we develop them and look after them," he said.

Only an injury suffered in a pre-season game had prevented him getting even more time with the side.

"Right from day one here in November, the way he trained and his whole attitude he really stood out in everything we did. He hasn't surprised us and he has shown that he can be consistent about it too," he said.