Replacing a player of the calibre of Jerome Kaino is an impossible and unenviable task for anyone, but Blues loose forward Chris Lowrey is relishing that challenge and has made an incredible fist of it so far this season.
New Zealand’s Player of the Year in 2011, Jerome Kaino had an outstanding campaign with the Blues before going on to secure the Rugby World Cup with the All Blacks later that year.
The Blues vice-captain continued his fine form in the 2012 season but a shoulder injury in the second round against the Chiefs ruled him out of action for the remainder of the season as he required surgery.
His absence has left a huge void in the Blues forward pack, but Lowrey has been working tirelessly to fill it and is currently playing some of the best rugby of his career.
The 25-year-old product of Mount Albert Grammar School and Ponsonby Rugby Club said it would take the entire team to step up to fill the gap left by Kaino.
“Jerome has lead by example not just for this team but for the All Blacks and it’s a huge loss for us but we’ve all got to step up in our own areas and each try to be like the enforcer that he is because we’ve lost quite a lot in that regard without Jerome,” Lowrey said.
The Blues Rookie of the Year in 2009, Lowrey failed to kick on and deliver on his promise, with injuries and illness stunting his progression through the ranks.
But in an underperforming Blues team this year, Lowrey has consistently been one of the standout performers and has played every minute of every game so far this season.
Lowrey believes that consistency of selection and regular game time has been a contributing factor to his impressive season.
“I’m pretty happy with how I’ve been going so far but obviously not satisfied, I want to get better. It’s good to be on the field consistently and that makes it a lot easier. I’ve got a lot more confidence each week to go out and play,” he said.
“I had the goal at the start of the season to try and be the best player in this team. That started at pre-season and I’ve just tried to work at it throughout the games we’ve had. I’ve just got to keep chipping away at it and hopefully I’ll reach that goal by the end of the season.”
So how does Blues head coach Pat Lam think he stacks up to his goal of being the best player in the team eight rounds into the season?
“He’s certainly right up there and I think that’s a good goal for him to have as an individual,” Lam said.
“The key is that he’s worked really hard during the off-season. One of the areas that was a big challenge for him was consistency and I think he’s finally gotten rid of a lot of niggles, worked hard and mentally prepared really well for games and he’s reaping the rewards in his own individual performances. But he’s just like everyone else; ultimately he wants the whole team to do well.”
Tonight Lowrey has switched from his preferred position of blindside flanker to number eight as Luke Braid returns from suspension and Brad Mika is ruled out of action through injury.