"We want to win the full season title” – Leon Macdonald

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Announcing the Blues 2022 squad on Monday, coach Leon MacDonald said their success only covered half the season.

 

"We want to win the full season title, and that's going to be our drive," he said.

 

Player transfers, both internally and overseas, and retirements, forced changes in the side. But MacDonald was happy with the blend the Blues have achieved across the team.

 

As they contemplate a season of greater engagement with fans with more afternoon games scheduled, they know there will be intense interest in former league star Roger Tuivasa-Scheck's involvement with the squad.

 

Missing the NPC season with Auckland meant a change of approach to Tuivasa-Scheck's rugby return.

 

"The big-picture plan was to start him in the outsides with Auckland and progress him into midfield for us. We've missed that through Covid.

 

"But the outside backs was easy for him and it didn't take him long to adjust [during full-contact training with Auckland]. We feel he's ticked that box," he said.

 

The Blues felt he should concentrate on the midfield for the moment and, if necessary, he could use his experience if required to play on the wing.

 

MacDonald said he expected Tuivasa-Scheck to be ready to go from the season's start, along with the side's returning All Blacks, who will be time restraints as they eased into playing.

"In his mind, he's ready to go in round one. It's about trying to pull him back instead of push him forward. He's pretty determined and excited.

 

"If you speak to any of the players, and coaches, we're blown away by how quickly he has taken to the game. It's like he never left it.

 

"His detail and preparation are impressive, and his skill set is right up there. We thought it might take him a while with the different skill sets, but he's been working hard at that.

 

"Like everyone, he'll be trying to put his hand up and push for that game one starting spot," he said.

 

The choice of Luke Romano, a 136-game veteran for the Crusaders, was down to finding an experienced lock after the loss of stalwarts Patrick Tuipulotu and Gerard Cowley-Tuioti. It helped that Romano performed so well for Canterbury in the NPC.

 

Blues forwards coach Tom Coventry said, "I love the way he plays the game. He's very physical, he brings attention to detail around [the] set-piece, and he'll be pretty uncompromising when it comes to getting work done and making sure everyone is on the same page.

 

Another Cantabrian, via the Brumbies and Waikato, is James Tucker, a New Zealand Under-20 team member in 2014 and a New Zealand Under-19 cricket representative.

 

"He's been around the group before, has worked himself back into good form by going to play for the Brumbies, and worked himself nicely into that Waikato pack this year.

 

"We've been fortunate to pick up two experienced locks who will add real value to our pack," he said.

 

Added experience in the tight five will come with hooker Ricky Riccitelli moving from the Hurricanes to work with Kirk Eklund and Soane Vikena in that department.

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