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Stephen Perofeta returns as Blues rest and rotate squad for Highlanders

By Ned Lester
Stephen Perofeta of the Blues is pictured during the round four Super Rugby Pacific match between NSW Waratahs and Blues at Allianz Stadium, on March 16, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

The Blues have rested and rotated a number of players for their round 13 contest against the Highlanders at Eden Park.

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With a crack at winning the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy and retaining their competition-best record as the playoffs near, the team will celebrate a 50th cap for prop Marcel Renata as well as two potential debuts off the bench.

Prop Mason Tupaea and outside back Kade Banks have been named in the N0. 17 and 23 jerseys respectively, and will look to gain their first minutes of Super Rugby Pacific action in front of their home fans.

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The team also welcome the return of Stephen Perofeta, who has been named in the no. 22 jersey after an extended sideline spell with a shoulder injury.

Renata is joined by Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Hurt Eklund in the front row, while Laghlan McWhannell gets another start while Patrick Tuipulotu rests.

The All Black lock’s absence means another run with the captain’s armband for Dalton Papali’i, who is joined by Adrian Choat on the blindside flank while All Balck Akira Ionae moves to No. 8 to cover the rest absence of Hoskins Sotutu.

Sam Nock and Harry Plummer make up the starting halves combination, while Corey Evans and Bryce Heem will line up in the midfield.

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All Black mark Tele’a is rested for the contest while Zarn Sullivan has been diagnosed with a meniscus tear and will be sidelined for a month. Those absences mean the versatile AJ Lam will start on the right wing while the recently re-signed Cole Forbes starts at fullback.

“It’s going to be fierce against the Highlanders,” Papali’i said.

“We’ve talked about retaining the Gordon Hunter Trophy this week – he’s a man who holds a special place in both team’s histories and we know the Highlanders will be coming up here with fire in the belly looking to snatch it back off us,” he said.

“I’m stoked for Marcel playing his 50th cap this weekend. He’s a top fella to have around the club and a true Blues man – he even chopped his finger off for the cause!” Papali’i quipped.

The captain added he was looking forward to seeing 2023 Blues teammates Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens and Tanielu Tele’a back at Eden Park for the match.

“Both Jacob and Nelu spent plenty of time up here at the Blues, they know us and we know them. We’ll definitely be looking to get the upper hand against them on Saturday and no doubt share a few laughs afterwards.”

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Blues team to face the Highlanders

  1. Ofa Tu’ungafasi

  2. Kurt Eklund

  3. Marcel Renata – 50th Blues appearance

  4. Laghlan McWhannell

  5. Sam Darry

  6. Adrian Choat

  7. Dalton Papali’i (c)

  8. Akira Ioane

  9. Sam Nock

  10. Harry Plummer

  11. Caleb Clarke

  12. Corey Evans

  13. Bryce Heem

  14. AJ Lam

  15. Cole Forbes

    Reserves

  16. Soane Vikena

  17. Mason Tupaea*

  18. Angus Ta’avao

  19. Josh Beehre

  20. Cameron Suafoa

  21. Taufa Funaki

  22. Stephen Perofeta

  23. Kade Banks*

*potential Blues debut

Players not considered: Lucas Cashmore (hamstring), Finlay Christie (groin), Joshua Fusitu’a, (concussion protocol),  Rieko Ioane (concussion protocol), Jordan Lay (ankle, season), Hoskins Sotutu (managing workload), Zarn Sullivan (knee), Mark Tele’a (managing workload), Patrick Tuipulotu (managing workload).

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