Key quartet re-sign with Blues for next season
Captain Luke Braid headlines a quartet of Blues players who have recommitted to the franchise for the next Super Rugby season.
Braid, fellow flanker Brendon O'Connor and wing Frank Halai have all signed one-year deals with the Blues while halfback Bryn Hall has re-signed until the end of 2016.
The 25-year-old Braid was a consistently high performer this season, despite carrying a shoulder injury for most of the year, and still has high ambitions in New Zealand.
"I'm still incredibly motivated to win something with the Blues and continue to try and make the All Blacks," Braid said.
"I've been through the good times with the Blues in my first year when we made the semis, hit rock bottom the following year and we've been working our way back up since then. I feel we're heading in the right direction and am keen to stick around and keep working hard to achieve our goals."
Braid had surgery on his right shoulder two weeks ago and is expected to have surgery on his left shoulder next month, meaning he will miss the ITM Cup with Auckland but will be fit and available for the start of the Blues' 2015 campaign.
O'Connor, 24, who was recently named captain of Hawke's Bay Magpies, said: "I've really enjoyed my time with the Blues. I'm just looking to get as much game time as I can next year and I think the Blues is the best place for me to do that.
"Having Braidy here as well means there's stiff competition. We keep challenging each other and that can only be good for us and for the team. "
Braid and O'Connor join All Blacks Jerome Kaino and Steven Luatua as flankers who are under contract with the Blues.
After playing just one game last year as injury and illness scuppered his season, Hall was a revelation for the Blues in 2014, unseating veteran All Black Piri Weepu as the first-choice halfback.
Hall, 22, said the year had been a great learning experience.
"This season I had a strong mindset of trying to make the side and I was fortunate to get a few starts and then push on. Obviously it was pretty disappointing from a team point of view that we weren't able to achieve what we set out to but I feel I've become a much better player.
"There's a great culture developing here and we've set some big goals. We weren't able to achieve them this year but it's our motivation to return the Blues to where they need to be ."
Halai joins Charles Piutau and Lolagi Visinia as back-three players under contract with the Auckland-based franchise and was keen to rediscover the form that saw him become an All Black in 2013.
"I'm still very motivated to get back in the All Blacks and help lead the Blues to success next season."
Coach Sir John Kirwan was rapt to have such a key quartet back on the books.
"We need to be able to play Brendon more. He's a player with a big future and with Braidy coming off his shoulder surgeries, we don't know if he'll be ready in time for the start of the season so it's a really important time for Brendon to get in there and put pressure on us and Braidy.
"Bryn is also a great signing. He's been a real find this year but if you're behind the scenes and watching how hard he works on his game there's a reason why he's had success and we're looking for him to kick on next season.
"I'm really excited about Frank. He had a great first year and is one of our attacking weapons. He's one of the most exciting athletes in our organisation."