TJ Perenara will make his long-awaited return to a rugby field via the reserves when the Hurricanes play the Crusaders in a Super Rugby pre-season match in Timaru on Saturday.
It will be the first time the talented halfback has played since breaking an ankle during the Hurricanes bye week on the Gold Coast last June.
Coach Mark Hammett said yesterday Perenara was fully fit and raring to go, and was hoping to get through about 30 minutes of rugby.
Hammett also made special mention of another halfback on the comeback trail in North Harbour's Chris Smylie. Smylie, who will start against the Crusaders, missed the entire Hurricanes season last year after tearing a shoulder in the final pre-season match.
Hammett is looking to the team's three warmup matches - against the Crusaders, Rebels and Chiefs - to increase competition for spots ahead of the season-opener against the Blues at Westpac Stadium.
And with the Hurricanes' All Blacks easing into their playing duties, the wider squad will get an early chance to make an impression.
Hooker Dane Coles, who is targeting half a game in Timaru, will be the sole All Black on display, with the remainder returning over the next two weeks.
Captain Conrad Smith, loose forward Victor Vito, wing Cory Jane, and first five-eighth Beauden Barrett officially returned to full duties yesterday, while former Crusader prop Ben Franks arrived on the Interislander ferry on Sunday and clocked in to work on Monday.
Smith has yet to decide what part he will take in the pre-season campaign, or make his playing return in the first competition match of the season as he did last year.
Six players will miss the Crusaders match through injury including loose forward Brad Shields, though he has been given the all-clear from his surgeon and is hopeful of taking some part in the final pre-season match against the Chiefs at Mangatainoka.
Meanwhile, two players will travel to Timaru as cover from outside the contracted squad in New Zealand - under-20s back and Oriental-Rongotai player Ambrose Curtis, alongside Hutt Old Boys wing Parataiso Silafai-Lea'ana.
Hammett said the match, which will be played over four quarters, was a valuable exercise despite the absence of a host of top players. "The thing about the pre-season is you always find out how the things you have trained [for] work against a defence that is coming at you full tilt."
Hurricanes: Andre Taylor, Richard Buckman, Tim Bateman, Rey LeeLo, Matt Proctor, James Marshall, Chris Smylie, Mike Coman, Karl Lowe, Callum Gibbins, Jason Eaton, Blade Thomson, Ben May, Ash Dixon, Reg Goodes. Reserves: Dane Coles, Jeremy Thrush, Eric Sione, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, James Broadhurst, Mark Reddish, Faifili Levave, TJ Perenara, Papa Wharewera, Ope Peleseuma, Ambrose Curtis, Parataiso Silafai-Lea'ana. Injured: Samisoni Fisilau (hamstring), Jack Lam (knee), Alapati Leiua (hamstring), Motu Matu'u (pectoral), Ardie Savea (toe), Brad Shields (knee).
- The Dominion Post