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Blues hunting Hayden Parker's signature

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Blues linked with surprise No. 10 signing - and it's not Beauden Barrett

New Zealand-born Sunwolves first-five Hayden Parker is the next playmaker on the wish list of the Blues, according to the New Zealand Herald.

Parker, a former Highlander, moved to Japan to play for the Panasonic Wild Knights and then the Kobe Steelers in the Top League before linking up with long-time mentors Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown at the Sunwolves last season.

Kobe still have Parker signed on for another season, but the Herald understands that the club, which also has ex-All Blacks legend Dan Carter on its books, will be bringing in another Kiwi playmaker in the form of Montpellier star Aaron Cruden for two years, which could be extended to a four-year deal.

The 30-year-old is expected to move to Japan from France in July, which could push Parker – who won’t play for the Sunwolves regardless of Cruden’s imminent arrival due to a clash in scheduling between the Top League and Super Rugby as a result of this year’s World Cup – out of Japan completely.

Consequently, Parker’s predicament has piqued the interest of the Blues, who are in the midst of chasing two-time World Player of the Year, Beauden Barrett, whose contract with New Zealand Rugby and the Hurricanes runs out at the end of the year.

Parker, who has improved exponentially since arriving in Japan full-time at the end of 2017, would play an important role with the Blues if he was to re-locate to Auckland.

Even if the three-time Super Rugby champions did acquire the services of Barrett, it’s unlikely he would play for the Blues until 2021 given that he will probably take a sabbatical in Japan for the entirety of the 2020 campaign.

Parker, who set a Super Rugby record 38 consecutive kicks at goal over the last two seasons, told Stuff in April that he would like to return to New Zealand, but had a preference to go back to the Highlanders, the side he debuted for in 2013.

“I would love to [come home]. But I just don’t know if it will all work out,” he said at the time.

The Highlanders won’t have room to welcome back their former playmaker, however, as youngsters Josh Ioane and Bryn Gatland will return to the franchise, while Crusaders pivot Mitch Hunt will replace departing cult hero Marty Banks.

As it stands, the Blues currently have three first-fives in their ranks.

22-year-old Stephen Perofeta has the most promise of the trio, but didn’t play at all this season due to a chest injury.

21-year-old Harry Plummer shared the starting duties with 24-year-old Otere Black, but neither set the world alight as the Blues succumbed to a seventh consecutive season without finals football to finish in 13th spot with five wins from 16 outings.

Their lack of success highlighted the Blues’ need for a talented, experienced first-five, with 28-year-old duo Barrett and Parker both fitting the bill.

The widely expected departures of veteran midfielders Sonny Bill Williams and Ma’a Nonu could also play a key role in the make-up of the franchise’s first-five merry-go-round as well.

Although Plummer’s inexperience and under-par goal-kicking was exposed in his debut Super Rugby season, his bravery, commitment and glimpses of a solid attacking game were all evident at various points throughout the season, and a shift out to second-five, where he has played for the New Zealand U20 side, could be on the cards next year.

That would help plug the gap left by Williams and Nonu, while freeing up a space at first-five for Parker while Barrett pursues his stint in Japanese club rugby.

Blues chairman Don Mackinnon recently told Newshub: “We need leaders, no doubt about that. I’m unashamedly going to encourage the organisation to look for talent outside of the region.”

That sentiment bodes well for those wishing for Parker to turn out in a Blues jersey next year, while former All Blacks coach and current Blues board member, John Hart, is an admirer of the playmaker’s ability.

Hart suggested Parker, who is uncapped at test level, could be an unlikely candidate to fill the void in the All Blacks’ World Cup squad left by Damian McKenzie following his season-ending knee injury in April.

“He is experienced and one of the best goalkickers around, and brave,” Hart told Radio Sport in April.

“He is a bit more experienced, and you need experience in the World Cup.”

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Blues linked with surprise No. 10 signing - and it's not Beauden Barrett