Ali Williams will captain the Blues for the first time when he leads out the side to face the Waratahs in Whangarei on Saturday for their second pre-season hitout of the year.
The 77-test veteran returned to the Blues a month early to kick-start his pre-season training and is excited about not only playing his first game but also leading the team for the first time.
"I've had a pretty good pre-season with a lot of hard work and it's great to eventually get out onto the paddock,'' Williams said. "I'm really excited. One thing I'm probably most excited about is being out in the pressure cooker with all these boys who have done the hard work together, so it's going to be good.
"This is going to be the first real test. You can only really judge a captain by what happens on the field. First and foremost it's how they play and secondly it's how the team comes off.
"There are a few things for me to concentrate on but, at the moment, I'm loving it and having a great bunch of guys around me makes it easy.''
Williams is joined by a number of heavyweights returning to the fray for the first time this year. Northlander Rene Ranger will line up at centre and Chris Noakes starts at first five-eighths.
Wing George Moala will play his first game since fracturing his fibula during the ITM Cup. All Black prop Charlie Faumuina will get some game time off the bench and lock Culum Retallick will also come off the pine to play his first game in five months since suffering a mid-foot joint sprain.
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan said he was uninterested in the Waratahs line-up for Saturday, instead concentrating on what his side needed to improve on.
"We're being pretty selfish at the moment,'' kirwan said. "There's absolutely no use looking at them. It's about getting our systems in place.
"We realise they've got their first game next week and they'll probably be playing their best side so we know they'll be up for it but we can't worry too much about that.''
Blues team to play the Waratahs at Toll Stadium, Whangarei, on Saturday (2.30pm): Albert Nikoro, George Moala, Rene Ranger, Francis Saili, Lolagi Visinia, Chris Noakes, Bryn Hall, Peter Saili, Luke Braid, Steven Luatua, Ali Williams (c), Liaki Moli, Angus Ta'avao, Quentin MacDonald, Tom McCartney. Rerves: James Parsons, Tim Perry, Culum Retallick, Brendon O'Connor, Charlie Faumuina, Ronald Raaymakers, Kane Barrett, Jamison Gibson-Park, Malakai Fekitoa, Marty McKenzie, Baden Kerr, Waisake Naholo, Frank Halai.
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