FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH: Round One

Five players v2

Quinn Tupaea (Chiefs)

 

Quinn Tupaea, 20, had higher-level rugby written all over him from the time he debuted with Waikato in 2018 and he proved no slug when backing up last year. An exciting player with ball in hand and more than capable on defence, he has captained NZ Schoolboys and was a member of the NZ Under-20 team last year. He knows the way to the goalline having scored 14 tries in 21 appearances for Waikato. He's already enjoyed a share of Ranfurly Shield-winning success and there is every chance he hasn't finished accumulating titles yet. Surrounded by talent in the Chiefs backline he could flourish to his side's advantage.

Braydon Ennor (Crusaders)

 

For a long time it seemed centre Braydon Ennor would have to wait his turn to play his preferred position of centre. But the departure of Ryan Crotty meant Jack Goodhue moved in one position for Ennor to get centre. Any opponents who thought that might have made life easier would be advised to think again. Ennor demonstrated his potency at centre in NZ Under-20's world title-winning effort in Georgia in 2017 and did well enough to make his Mitre 10 debut the same year and followed that with a Test debut in 2019. When getting the chance to perform at centre for the Crusaders he cut a merry swathe through the Blues defence to demonstrate what could lie in store for opponents this year.

 

Jordan Petaia (Reds)

 

Provided Reds centre Jordan Petaia can avoid the hamstring issues that have marred his career to date, he could prove a significant spark in the Reds backline as coach Brad Thorn looks to elevate his side back towards the top of the Super Rugby pecking order. Catapulted into the Wallabies, without much in the way of criticism, Petaia was regarded as a genuine comer at Test level. However, he didn't get much of a chance to prove himself before injury struck. But the drums have been well and truly beating in relation to his undoubted potential and he could prove more than a handful for the Brumbies at the weekend, especially in partnership with James O'Connor in midfield.

Hoskins Sotutu (Blues)

 

No pressure Hoskins. Making a starting debut at No.8 having been named ahead of local legend Akira Ioane, who just happened to have played very game for the Blues over the past two seasons doesn't come much more impressive. With an impressive age-group record Sotutu has been crying out for a piece of the action at this level and the ball is well and truly in his court to take his chance. A strong runner, good with ball in hand, he has some of the same attributes Ioane has and by showing his fitness and eagerness in pre-season he has done enough to secure the preference. Ioane's mobility had been an issue and if Sotutu can step up in that area the race will be on in the future.

 

Damian Willemse (Stormers)

 

All the attention on the emerging players in the Stormers has tended to focus on his halfback partner Herschel Jantjies. But the 21-year-old first five-eighths Damian Willemse has been ranked a comer on the South African scene since spending two years in SA Schools and the SA Under-20 side between 2015-2018. He's already made six Test appearances for South Africa and with Handré Pollard having moved offshore there should be greater opportunities for the talented Willemse to state his case. He won't lack for loose forward support with Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit around him and if good quality ball can be set up he should have a grand chance to lead the Stormers back to the competition heights this year.

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