Rugby: Hurricane Eaton playing for his future

By Daniel Richardson

After starting the opening two games of the campaign, Chris Eaton was relegated back to the bench where he has spent a majority of the year. Photo / Getty Images
After starting the opening two games of the campaign, Chris Eaton was relegated back to the bench where he has spent a majority of the year. Photo / Getty Images

Off-contract at the end of the season, new No 1 Hurricanes halfback Chris Eaton knows the next month could shape his rugby future.

The season-ending ankle injury that TJ Perenara suffered against the Reds on Friday night has given Eaton an opportunity to pull on the No 9 jumper for the remainder of the Hurricanes' Super Rugby campaign.

The 1.75m Hawkes Bay product who spent his schoolboy years at St John's College in Hastings will be a free agent after he turns out for the Magpies again in this season's ITM Cup, although he has said he would like to stay in New Zealand.

"Yeah, I suppose it could if I show good form obviously it's going to help out with another contract so we'll just see how we go," the 28-year-old said.

"I'd like to stay on but I've got a young family now that I've got to think about, so there's a lot of other things that come into the equation.

So I've just got to see what other opportunities come my way and what's best. But I enjoy playing for the Hurricanes and I'd like to stay with them."

The sixth-placed Hurricanes get back on the paddock on June 30 when they meet the Crusaders in Christchurch. A bye follows before they end the regular season against the table-topping Chiefs in Wellington on July 13.

Eaton's road to the Hurricanes has been hard-fought too.

He made his provincial debut against North Otago as a 21-year-old in 2005 and was a member of the franchise's wider training group in 2009 and 2010 before earning a spot on the full-time roster last year.

Having spent time behind Piri Weepu it appeared this year would be Eaton's time, particularly given that Chris Smylie's season-ending shoulder injury struck before a ball had even been passed in anger.

After starting the opening two games of the campaign, Eaton was relegated back to the bench where he has spent a majority of the year as Perenara emerged as the hottest new player in the competition.

Eaton said he came into the season with few expectations but acknowledged it had still been challenging.

"It has been frustrating. You always want to start. You work on that during the week and then when it comes to game day you just want to do what's best for the team, so if that's coming off the bench and providing impact or speeding the game up or slowing it down depending on what it needs at the time then I'm happy to do that and come Monday I'll try and work hard again to get the starting spot."

Eaton, who played his 50th game for Hawkes Bay last season, has been in noticeably hot try-scoring form of late too, having dotted down in his past three games, including a crucial bonus-point try against the Waratahs in week 15.

While his try against the Reds in last Friday's practice game won't make the official record books, he said it was more a case of being in the right place at the right time during the past month.

"I haven't scored any for a while and now they're sort of coming thick and fast so I was pretty happy about that. Hopefully I can get another one in our next game."

Another five-pointer and a strong game against the Crusaders on June 30 would go a long way to convincing Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett that the scrum-half should be back in black and yellow next season.

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