Papalii returns for final round encounter

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The Gordon Hunter Trophy is also up for grabs on Friday night, with the Blues looking to retain the trophy and honour their former coach with a performance befitting of the esteem he is held in by both teams. 

Telea suits up for his 50th Blues appearance in red hot form, leading the competition in tries, clean breaks and defenders beaten. His four tries against the Hurricanes, taking his season-topping tally to 11 tries heading into Friday’s match.

Papalii, who slots into a rearranged loose forward trio at number eight, alongside Tom Robinson and Anton Segner, was granted an early return from suspension having completed a World Rugby Coaching Intervention Programme.

Fellow loose forward, Akira Ioane, will come off the bench for the match as part of a personalised All Blacks rest plan while Northland’s Rob Rush is a potential Blues debutant off the bench as well.

Meanwhile the backs have encountered a late reshuffle with Bryce Heem being ruled out. Stephen Perofeta takes the 10 jersey with Beauden Barrett still nursing a cut to his heel. Harry Plummer takes Heem's spot at 12 and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck comes onto the bench. 

Blues Head Coach, Leon MacDonald, noted Telea’s upcoming milestone and the return of regular Skipper, Papalii.

“Mark’s been electric for us this year and continues to put in strong performances week in, week out. Fifty games for the Blues is something to be proud of and as a backline we just need to keep putting him in good positions to let his talent flourish.”

 “It’s always pleasing to welcome back a player of Dalton’s calibre. He adds even more leadership and experience to the pack and I know he’s hungry to put in a performance for his team mates.”

MacDonald said his side want to ride the momentum of back-to-back games at Eden Park.

“This weekend is about what we can control; a win and we guarantee a home quarterfinal spot,” he said.

“The Highlanders have everything to play for and we’re planning for a real battle. We want to ensure we lock away the Gordy Hunter trophy for the season and know we’ll need to be at best in order to do so.”

Blues Captain Dalton Papalii said he can’t wait to get stuck in against the Highlanders.

“I’m grateful to be able to return on Friday, the body might have enjoyed a bit of time off, but it’s fair to say I’m pretty keen to get back into it,” Papalii said.

“Whenever you have a spell on the sidelines, you feel a bit helpless as the boys run out there and put their body on the line for the jersey.”

“We need to take care of business on Friday night. Our destiny is in our own hands, a good performance and we’ll be back at Eden Park, guaranteed – it’s up to us to make it happen.”


1: Ofa Tuungafasi
2: Ricky Riccitelli
3: Nepo Laulala
4: Patrick Tuipulotu
5: James Tucker     
6: Tom Robinson
7: Anton Segner
8: Dalton Papalii (C)
9: Finlay Christie
10: Stephen Perofeta
11: Caleb Clarke
12: Harry Plummer
13: Rieko Ioane
14: Mark Telea
15: Zarn Sullivan

Reserves: Kurt Eklund, Jordan Lay, Marcel Renata, Rob Rush*, Akira Ioane, Sam Nock, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, AJ Lam

*potential debutant


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