Canterbury captain and No 8 Luke Whitelock under injury cloud
The standing ovation Canterbury captain Luke Whitelock received when he hobbled off AMI Stadium on Wednesday night said it all.
No doubt some of the applause was reserved for his part in Canterbury's 78-5 Ranfurly Shield defence against Counties Manukau, but the fans kept banging their hands together knowing full well it could be the last they see of him for a while.
The extent of his knee injury won't be known until Friday, but he didn't look in a good way after 115kg prop Pauliasi Manu landed on his knee in the lead-up to Canterbury centre Tim Bateman's 45th minute try.
Whitelock dished an offload to midfielder Rob Thompson before he was dragged down by Manu, and needed to be helped from the field by medical staff.
Canterbury coach Glenn Delaney couldn't offer any details on Whitelock's status after his team's record win against the Steelers, but all signs point to him missing Sunday's game against Wellington in the capital.
"He's had a bang. He couldn't continue, that was clear," Delaney said.
"We'll circle the wagons around him [on Thursday], have a good look at it and come up with a plan."
Delaney will on Friday name his team to play Wellington, the final match of Canterbury's "storm week" (three games in 10 days).
Whitelock, who was supporting his own weight post match, joins Matt Todd (fractured hand), hooker Ben Funnell (ribs) and prop Daniel Lienert-Brown (shoulder) in the injury ward.
Funnell is a chance to return on Sunday, while Todd and Lienert-Brown aren't expected back for at least another week.
With a ridiculous amount of depth in the squad, Delaney, who had to bring in Jed Brown for Hamish Dalzell (flu) at late notice on Wednesday, need not panic.
"The great thing is we've got a lot of faith in our bench," he said.
"They come on and they do a job for us. Even when we're mixing and matching and putting guys in positions they haven't had a lot of time in, things keep functioning."
Tom Sanders, who started at blindside flanker in the mauling of Counties, is the obvious candidate to take over at No 8, should Whitelock be ruled out for any period of time.
While blow outs gave Delaney the luxury of going to his bench early against Southland and Counties, it's a safe bet there will be changes to Sunday's lineup to tackle the championship frontrunners.
"I've said in the period of the storm we will treat every game in isolation and what we will do now is get a lot of recovery in, see how guys present and if people are not right to play they won't play," Delaney said.
"We will get the best team out to deal with Wellington. They're playing really well at the minute, they're a real handful, they've got some great game breakers. It's going to be a tough challenge on their home patch, so we've got to make sure we've got the right team out there to do the job for us."