Let’s get the good news out of the way first.
Brad Weber has re-signed with New Zealand Rugby (NZR), keeping him in the country until the end of 2021.
The nippy halfback has also recommitted to the Chiefs, the Super Rugby side he’s accumulated over 70 appearances for over seven seasons.
Of the All Black’s 31-man squad for last year’s World Cup, five departed New Zealand’s shores upon the tournament’s completion.
A further 19 players are contracted until the end of 2021 or beyond – including Weber.
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That leaves eight players whose contract situations are unclear after the current season.
Jack Goodhue is the sole back from the World Cup squad who is still playing Super Rugby in 2020 but has yet to sign on for any further.
Whilst it’s certainly not unusual for a player to wait until the final year of their contract to negotiate new terms, NZR have been quick to lock players in at the first opportunity they get.
As a recent example from earlier this month, Chiefs midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown re-signed with New Zealand until the end of the next World Cup in 2023 but still had a year to run on his old contract.
NZR won’t be hugely concerned about all of the above 13 players whose contracts are coming to an end in 2020.
Atu Moli, for example, is just 24-years old and won’t yet be attracting major offers from off-shore. Luke Jacobson is in a similar boat.
There are others, however, that could well be causing a few sleepless nights.
Scott Barrett, in particular, stood out throughout 2019 and was arguably New Zealand’s best performing lock – both internationally and in Super Rugby.
Foreign clubs will be circling like vultures for the new Crusaders captain who is entering the prime of his career.
It’s a similar story for Nepo Laulala, who managed to usurp centurion Owen Franks as the All Blacks’ number one tighthead prop in the lead-up to the Rugby World Cup.
The 28-year old could well be a key cog in New Zealand’s next run at the Webb Ellis Cup and has slowly been groomed into the All Blacks set-up – but all that development could be lost if NZR can’t lock Laulala in.
Tuipulotu put out his best performances for the national side to date last year and could have a starting role in the squad this season, given the absences of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick from Super Rugby (Retallick won’t be available for national section at all in 2020).
The picture isn’t quite so clear for Frizell and Fifita, who have been given a few opportunities to stake their claims for the No. 6 jersey but not yet taken ownership.
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Both players were left out of the initial World Cup squad and with plenty of young talent coming through the ranks and no major tournament on the horizon anytime soon, their chances to impress the selectors may have come to an end.
It would be a massive surprise if those two weren’t tabling sizeable offers from around the globe – offers that NZR may struggle to compete with.
And while New Zealand will never struggle to replace players in the national set-up, Super Rugby’s quality is decreasing year-on-year thanks to the loss of the mid-tier of players.
Frizell and Fifita, alongside players like Mitchell Drummond and Matt Duffie, are needed to sure up the Kiwi franchises and provide experienced heads for the newbies to learn from and compete against.
Goodhue, of course, is the other major player that New Zealand Rugby will be desperate to keep in the country.
Goodhue is still a young player but he’s already proven that he’s one of the best centres in world rugby and new All Blacks coach Ian Foster will likely be looking for Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown to combine as the midfield to take the side to the next World Cup.
As contract negotiations are usually kept almost entirely private, NZR will certainly be negotiating hard with the players and the agents to suss out their futures in the country – but some offers will be simply too hard to refuse.
One way or another, expect plenty of announcements in the upcoming months regarding who will be sticking around in New Zealand and who will be taking their services elsewhere.
Contracted until 2020: Nepo Laulala, Angus Ta’avao, Atu Moli, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu, Vaea Fifita, Shannon Frizell, Luke Jacobson, Gareth Evans, Mitchell Drummond, Jack Goodhue, Matt Duffie.
Contracted until 2021: Codie Taylor, Dane Coles, Asafo Aumua, Nathan Harris, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Akira Ioane, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Brad Weber, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Bryn Hall, Ngani Laumape, David Havili, Damin McKenzie, Braydon Ennor.
Unknown: Josh Ioane, Brett Cameron.
WATCH: Check out all of the incredible action coming up in March on RugbyPass.
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