The Blues will blood some new players, rely on proven performers and bring plenty of firepower off the bench for Friday’s opening match of the Investec Super Rugby Championship at Eden Park.
Hooker James Parsons, with 50 caps to his credit, will lead the side in the absence of Jerome Kaino, who is serving a one match penalty following a red card in the final pre-season match last week.
Japan World Cup star Male Sa’u will start at centre alongside All Black, George Moala who was the ITM Cup player of the year in 2015.
Sa’u, the former Counties Manukau midfielder, was impressive in his Blues debut against the Chiefs in the pre-season encounter last week.
Upfront North Harbour prop Sione Mafileo has earned his first start, after two games off the bench late last season, alongside Parsons and Ofa Tu’ungafasi.
In-form loose forward Joe Edwards, who also enjoyed an outstanding ITM Cup competition, will start at No 6 in the absence of Kaino alongside the experienced Steven Luatua and Blake Gibson, a member of the winning New Zealand Under-20 World Cup side.
The Blues welcome back All Black Patrick Tuipulotu, who was outstanding in pre-season, after missing much of the latter part of the season after surgery.
North Harbour captain Bryn Hall has been named at halfback alongside Ihaia West after missing all of the 2015 Super Rugby season with injury.
The bench is full of game-breakers including All Black Charlie Faumuina, Sevens star Akira Ioane, former All Black Rene Ranger and experienced hooker Quentin MacDonald.
The match at Eden Park kicks off at 7.35pm with the curtain-raiser between the Blues and Chiefs Development sides starting at 5.05pm.
The Blues team is:
- Ofa Tu’ungafasi
- James Parsons ©
- Sione Mafileo
- Patrick Tuipulotu
- Josh Bekhuis
- Joe Edwards
- Blake Gibson
- Steven Luatua
- Bryn Hall
- Ihaia West
- Tevita Li
- George Moala
- Male Sa’u
- Melani Nanai
- Lolagi Visinia.
Reserves: Quentin MacDonald, Namatahi Waa, Charlie Faumuina, Akira Ioane, Kara Pryor, Billy Guyton, Matt McGahan, Rene Ranger