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2023 Super Rugby Preview - Blues

Having won the 2021 Super Rugby Trans-Tasman title, the Blues were determined to make 2022 a good season and it became their very best since 2003, with a 16-match winning streak only leading to an agonising loss to the Crusaders, on their home ground at Eden Park.

The Blues' 2010s reputation as underdogs with no cohesive teamwork, has well and truly faded into history, as they now have a great deal of player retention and household names, with effective marketing to bring an audience out to the matches. The team are shaping up for a very strong 2023 with these factors in their favour.

Tom Robinson and Alex Hodgman of the Blues run the team out during a 2019 pre-season fixture. Photo: Max Sharp.

Leon MacDonald's tenure with the Blues will reach its fifth season in 2023; he now has a win rate of 56.82% and is the first Blues coach since 2008 to have a win rate above 50%, while likely leavers Beauden Barrett and Nepo Laulala, will wish to go out with a bang.

Let's break apart the possible outcome for the Blues in 2023, with a deep-dive into their squad analytics.

New Signings for the Blues in 2023:

Caleb Tangitau

Age: 19 years old

Position: Winger

Test Caps: uncapped

Previous Club: New Zealand 7s

The hulking young winger already has an eye for the tryline, having previously represented the All Blacks' 7s side in 21 competitions. A strong future prospect with a calm mind, he could be a future breakout star for sure. At 95kg and 1.88m, look for Tangitau to use his deceptive step to break the line many a time if he gets the opportunities.

Patrick Tuipulotu

Age: 29 years old

Position: Lock

Test Caps: 43 tests

Previous Club: Toyota Verblitz

A then-injured Blues captain, Patrick Tuipulotu, speaks to match-day attendees at Eden Park in 2021. Photo: Max Sharp.

Tuipulotu technically isn't a new signing, but returns from his sabbatical playing in Japan. Having been the Blues' captain from 2019 to 2021, the big lock will look to reassert his dominance in the team, especially with the 2023 Rugby World Cup fast-approaching. The big man needs no introduction, expect a huge season from him.

Rob Rush

Age: 22 years old

Position: Loose Forward

Test Caps: uncapped

Previous Club: Northland

Rush earns a deserved Super Rugby contract after ranking 21st in the NPC for most tackles made, with 102/117. As the son of former 9-test All Black Eric Rush, rugby is in his blood. At 110kg, look for the staunch Northlander to throw his body into the tight spaces and score a few tries as well.

Josh Fusitua

Age: 21 years old

Position: Prop

Test Caps: uncapped

Previous Club: Auckland

Not a bad replacement for Karl Tu'inukuafe at all. Fusitua earned his Blues debut in 2022, before he had even made his Auckland debut. Having done well in the Blues' academy system, he now has a full contract. Despite standing at just 1.83m, Fusitua weighs in at 118kg. Look for the young man to make huge progress at set-piece at this level.

Three Key Losses for The Blues from 2022:

Luke Romano

Age: 36 years old

Position: Lock

Test Caps: 31 tests

Destination: retired

After representing the Crusaders for 11 years, Romano opted to continue his career for one more season in order to keep his family business afloat in the pandemic. He filled in strongly as a lineout tactician for the Blues in Patrick Tuipulotu's one-year absence and can retire from rugby, knowing he made a lasting impact on the team; having played some matches as captain.

Karl Tu'inukuafe

Age: 29 years old

Position: Prop

Test Caps: 27 tests

Destination: Montpellier Hérault Rugby (France)

Persistent back injuries saw Tu'inukuafe lose form during 2021, leading to him going under the knife. Having been a former security guard, Tu'inukuafe knew he may not return to top form, so rather than return to security, he took the money to set his family up for life. A cult hero of NZ rugby, he will be remembered for phenomenal scrummaging with the Blues.

Josh Goodhue

Age: 27 years old

Position: Lock

Test Caps: uncapped

Destination: Black Rams Tokyo (Japan)

Josh Goodhue will depart the Blues for Japan. Photo: Max Sharp.

A weapon at lineout time and a hard carrier for the Blues since 2017, Goodhue will head to Japan with 46 matches in blue under his belt. Though a well-accomplished asset at Super Rugby level, Goodhue wasn't quite able to crack the radar of national selectors, so has made a sensible choice to head overseas.

A Possible First-Choice XV for the Blues in 2023:

  1. Ofa Tu'ungafasi

  2. Kurt Eklund

  3. Nepo Laulala

  4. Patrick Tuipulotu

  5. Sam Darry

  6. Akira Ioane

  7. Dalton Papali'i (c)

  8. Hoskins Sotutu

  9. Finlay Christie

  10. Beauden Barrett

  11. Caleb Clarke

  12. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

  13. Rieko Ioane

  14. Mark Telea

  15. Stephen Perofeta

Full Blues Squad for 2023:

*denotes newly-signed player.

Italics denote a test-capped player.

+ denotes a player ruled out for the season due to injury.

Hookers: Kurt Eklund, Ricky Riccitelli, Soane Vikena

Props: Josh Fusitua*, Alex Hodgman, Nepo Laulala, James Lay, Marcel Renata, Ofa Tu'ungafasi

Locks: Sam Darry, Taine Plumtree, Tom Robinson, James Tucker, Patrick Tuipulotu

Loose Forwards: Adrian Choat, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papali'i, Rob Rush*, Anton Segner, Hoskins Sotutu, Cameron Suafoa

Halfbacks: Finlay Christie, Taufa Funaki, Sam Nock

First-Fives: Beauden Barrett, Stephen Perofeta, Harry Plummer

Midfielders: Corey Evans, Bryce Heem, Rieko Ioane, Tanielu Tele'a, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

Outside Backs: Caleb Clarke, AJ Lam, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Zarn Sullivan, Caleb Tangitau, Mark Telea

10-test Samoan international, James Lay, will return from injury to play at prop. Photo: Max Sharp.

Potential MVP: Mark Telea

Potential Top Points Scorer: Stephen Perofeta

Potential Top Try-Scorer: Mark Telea

Likely Finishing Place in 2022:

1st Place. We all know that it's between the Crusaders and Blues at this point. Aside from my well-documented thoughts on the performances of Beauden Barrett and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in 2022, this is shaping up to be a very balanced team. The Blues have a very experienced first-choice tight-five unit, while their spine will have a huge advantage of two seasons of gelling, none of the new signings are key decision-makers for the team.