Hadleigh Parkes is set to be thrust into an unlikely lead role in a battle between two patchwork midfields when the Hurricanes and Chiefs scrap it out in Hamilton on Friday night.
Injuries have hit the Hurricanes hard ahead of their final match of Super Rugby’s regular season with No 8 Victor Vito (calf) and second five-eighth Alapati Leiua (ankle) almost certain to be ruled out today.
Leiua’s absence would further erode a midfield already missing centre and captain Conrad Smith (broken thumb) whose Super season is over unless the Hurricanes reach the playoffs.
Enter Parkes, the rugby nomad, who stepped up to the plate seven minutes into the 16-9 win over the Crusaders on Saturday night and provided crucial physical punch in the middle of the park.
‘‘I was looking forward to just sitting down and watching some footy from the bench,’’ the Hunterville-born 26-year-old said yesterday.
‘‘I certainly had to go on a lot earlier than I first thought.’’
In fact, Parkes must have wondered if his Super season would ever get going again.
After four starts early in the season, his role has been restricted to helping Johnsonville in Wellington club rugby.
Parkes’ last Hurricanes appearance before the Crusaders match was against the Highlanders in Dunedin on March 21.
A big man at about 105kg, Auckland’s national provincial championship captain’s uncomplicated game – ask concussed Crusaders first five-eighth Colin Slade if he runs hard – had him play Super Rugby for the Blues and Southern Kings before he landed in the capital.
But it was not by accident his midfield partnership with centre Tim Bateman came up trumps with the pair having played two seasons with the Christchurch club back in 2008-09.
Unless Leiua makes a miracle recovery, the Parkes-Bateman duo will surely start against a Chiefs side that has got midfield dramas of their own.
Coach Dave Rennie has struggled all season to find a functioning midfield.
Though Bundee Aki has made a good fist of second five-eighth since returning from injury, centre has been an Achilles heel.
Tim Nanai-Williams provides attacking genius, but defensive liability, while Robbie Fruean’s health issues have limited his impact all year.
Fruean barely made a dent during the Chiefs 29-25 loss to the Highlanders and with Charlie Ngatai available again after playing club rugby in the Waikato last weekend, he may well get the call-up against his former Hurricanes team-mates.
Rennie is also sweating on the fitness of big lock Brodie Retallick, who sat out training in Hamilton yesterday and is listed as a day-to-day concern.
There was some better news for Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett, with hooker Dane Coles pulling up well yesterday after copping a whack to his calf and he is expected to be fit by Friday.
No such luck for big Samoan blindside Faifili Levave, whose ankle is set to keep him out for the second week running.
That may well have Hammett stick with dual opensides Ardie Savea and Jack Lam, with Brad Shields at No 8, after the trio functioned well against the Crusaders.
The equation for the Hurricanes and Chiefs is simple, with anything less than a win ending their season.
‘‘We’re in charge of our own destiny now, so we just have to keep on going,’’ Parkes said. ‘‘We want to be here for a few more weeks and that’s in our hands. Hopefully we can go up to Hamilton and do it again.’’
The Hurricanes thumped the Chiefs 45-8 in round 15.
- The Dominion Post
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