Ma'a Nonu made a bold statement in his first hit-out of the season at Whitestone Contracting stadium in Oamaru tonight, leading the Highlanders to an impressive 38-21 win over the Crusaders.
Nonu looked fit, strong and most importantly more than interested as the Highlanders made a marked improvement from last week when they lost heavily to the Chiefs.
Nonu scored the first try of the game, brushing aside a couple of tacklers, and made metres whenever he had the ball.
The Highlanders pulled ahead in the second half after leading 19-14 at the break.
As befitting a pre-season match there were plenty of inaccuracies and passes went to ground more than once.
But the Highlanders looked the better side while the Crusaders, missing some of their stars, were subdued.
Also impressive for the Highlanders were halfback Aaron Smith, flanker Joe Wheeler, and John Hardie got round the paddock in his first game at this level in nearly a year.
Luke Romano picked up two tries for the Crusaders, who look as though they need plenty of work before the season starts.
Highlanders 38 (Hayden Parker 2, Ma'a Nonu, Buxton Popoali'i, Hosea Gear, Lima Sopoaga tries; Sopoaga 2 con, Parker 2 con) Crusaders 21 (Luke Romana 2 tries, Kieran Fonotia tries; Tom Taylor 2 con, Tyler Bleyendaal con) HT: 19-14