Laulala celebrates century as Blues eye Highlanders in season opener

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Laulala, who has previously played for the Crusaders and Chiefs, will be eager to make his milestone game a memorable one with Blues Coach Leon MacDonald appreciative of his burly prop’s contribution to the Blues set-up.

“Nepo’s a quiet achiever and someone who speaks with his actions,” said MacDonald.

“He’s a rock in our pack and certainly brings an edge for us at scrum time. I wouldn’t want to be training against him week-in, week-out, let alone playing against him!”

“We’re wishing him all the best for his 100th Super Rugby match and will be doing everything we can to get a win to note his milestone match.”

The Blues will wear black arm bands for the match to acknowledge those who have lost loved ones in the recent cyclone to hit the country.

“Our thoughts go out to those who have suffered at the hands of Cyclone Gabrielle. The arm bands are a small token from the team and it really does put rugby into perspective when things like this happen,” said MacDonald.

Meanwhile, Captain Dalton Papalii said his team have prepared well in the pre-season with hit-outs against the Hurricanes and Chiefs but are now ready to rip into the season.

"We know it's hard to win under the roof in Dunedin, but we're excited about the challenge," said Papalii.

"The boys have had a great week of training – there’s been a real bite to it. We've had enough of running pre-season Broncos and now it’s time to play some rugby."

Papalii also commented on the double-header aspect of Saturday’s southern showdown with the nib Blues women's team playing Matatū at 4:45pm under the roof.

"Playing a double-header alongside our women is a great opportunity to showcase the talent in both teams," said Papalii.

"We're looking forward to playing after the nib Blues women and hope both teams can paint Dunedin blue on Saturday!”

The Blues side has a familiar feel to it with no less than 13 All Blacks in the starting lineup. The northern club have won the last four encounters between the two sides but are taking nothing for granted as they head south for the season opener.

"This week has been about our standards, and playing to a level we know we are capable of," said MacDonald.

"The team is excited to get going and we know a fast start is always helpful to get some momentum into the campaign."

Blues team v Highlanders

1: Ofa Tuungafasi
2: Kurt Eklund
3: Nepo Laulala
4: Patrick Tuipulotu
5: Cameron Suafoa
6: Akira Ioane
7: Dalton Papalii
8: Hoskins Sotutu
9: Finlay Christie
10: Beauden Barrett
11: Caleb Clarke
12: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
13: Rieko Ioane
14: Mark Telea
15: Stephen Perofeta

Reserves: 16: Ricky Riccitelli 17: Joshua Fusitu’a 18: Marcel Renata 19: James Tucker 20: Adrian Choat 21: Taufa Funaki 22: Bryce Heem 23: AJ Lam
Players not considered:

Sam Darry (knee), Alex Hodgman (illness), James Lay (ankle), Sam Nock (calf), Harry Plummer (ribs), Tom Robinson (illness)


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