Buoyant Canes look to lock in Perenara, Vito

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 16/07/2012
Victor Vito
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ
SIGNATURE PENDING: Blindside flanker Victor Vito is one of the key off-contract players but is expected to re-sign with the Hurricanes for next season.

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Off-season shopping sprees will be minimal for Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett, who has 19 names already inked into his squad for 2013.

Star halfback TJ Perenara, All Black loose forward Victor Vito and lock Jason Eaton are the biggest names yet to re-sign, but it would be a major shock if the first two were not formalities.

Some more grunt up front and better cover at halfback and first five-eighth appear the obvious areas of recruitment for what looks to be only half a dozen spots left.

Hurricanes chief executive James Te Puni wouldn't comment on any individuals, but said he was thrilled with how the playing roster and balance sheet were looking.

"From a contracting point of view, we are well ahead of last year, both in terms of our plan and the total numbers contracted," he said.

"There are 19 guys confirmed remembering next year's squad will be about 30 players . . . we are probably 30 per cent ahead of this point last year. I can't comment on individuals, but there are five or six guys that are pretty well advanced."

Vito is understood to be one of several current All Blacks in negotiations with the New Zealand Rugby Union, and if so, would not be able to proceed with his franchise contract.

Perenara has made it clear he wants to remain a Hurricane for the foreseeable future, and Te Puni made it clear the feeling was mutual.

"We love the way TJ's played this year and we're really clear that our fans are keen to see him running in that No 9 jersey next year, but till it's finalised I can't comment further."

Oddly, Hammett is in a similar boat as he talks through the fine points of his NZRU contract, which runs out at the end of the year.

After a season that's hit the mark on every front bar the playoffs, the coach's return is a fait accompli.

Less clear is Eaton's future. Unwanted originally this year, he has returned to the sort of form that made him an All Black in 2009.

Also, notably off contract are flankers Jack Lam and Faifili Levave. Both have excelled alongside Vito. Losing either would be a blow.

Brad Shields is a bright prospect, but Karl Lowe and Serge Lilo, for all their talents, can be injury prone and Taranaki's Blade Thomson still coming through.

Finding a senior prop is sure to be a priority. Youngsters Jeffery Toomaga-Allen and Reg Goodes proved they have huge futures, but the scrum was an Achilles heel at times.

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Ben May carried a huge load and needs backup in an area that with a little more experience could have pushed the side into the playoffs.

Perenara and Beauden Barrett were superb in the halves, but have little backup.

At first five-eighth Tusi Pisi has two more years to play in Japan, so is a tenuous prospect and Dan Kirkpatrick is off to France. And at halfback, Chris Eaton and Frae Wilson did well, but are back ups not matchwinners.

It was unclear who else was on the market, but the Hurricanes should be well placed to write some decent cheques after turning around four years of dire financial results.

Though crowds are not the only factor, the 26,000 fans at the final match against the Chiefs, were the icing on the cake for the bean counters.

STATE OF PLAY

Contracted (19): Beauden Barrett, Dane Coles, Cory Jane, Alapati Leiua, Motu Matu'u, Julian Savea, Brad Shields, Conrad Smith, Andre Taylor, Jeremy Thrush, Richard Buckman, Tim Bateman, Reg Goodes, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Jayden Hayward, Serge Lilo, Karl Lowe, James Broadhurst, Ben May.

Likely: TJ Perenara, Victor Vito.

Off contract: Jason Eaton, Faifili Levave, Jack Lam, Chris Eaton, Tristan Moran, David Hall, Tusi Pisi, Chris Smylie, Mark Reddish.

Leaving: Charlie Ngatai (Chiefs), Dan Kirkpatrick (France), Michael Bent (Ireland)

- The Dominion Post

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