Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Stars are aligning for Steven Luatua at Blues

Steven Luatua of the Blues wins a lineout during the Super Rugby pre-season match between the Blues and the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images.
Steven Luatua of the Blues wins a lineout during the Super Rugby pre-season match between the Blues and the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images.

The stars are aligning for Steven Luatua at the Blues.

In the unlikely scenario that he needed greater motivation to explode back into top form for his team's season opener against the Highlanders he has surely received it with the suspension of captain and enforcer Jerome Kaino.

There is every chance Luatua will be made captain for the match against the defending champions at Eden Park on Friday following Kaino's one-match ban for his unintentional punch on Chiefs prop Pauliasi Manu last week.

Coach Tana Umaga will announce his choice of skipper tomorrow morning - his other option is hooker James Parsons. As there is no official vice-captain in the side, Luatua and Parsons - who both captained the team last year in Kaino's absence late in the season - are the obvious candidates.

Regardless of who gets the nod, the 24-year-old Luatua has a big chance to impress because, with Akira Ioane likely to be named at No8, and Joe Edwards going well in pre-season, the Blues are well catered for in terms of loose forwards.

Blake Gibson and Tanerau Latimer will contest the No7 jersey this season, with Kaino, Luatua, Edwards and Ioane fighting over the two positions of No8 and blindside flanker.

Luatua is a consistently good performer in the lineout, where his 1.96m and 115kg frame is a real asset, but it's around the field that he needs to improve after his disappointing 2015. He needs to get back to the levels of his debut year of 2012 because a year later he was in the All Blacks, only to be dropped after his 14th test in 2014 because he was unfit, a painfully public process which he is unlikely to forget.

The ball-carrying charges against the Chiefs from Kaino and powerful lock Patrick Tuipulotu, when he entered the fray, were imperative in putting the Blues on the front foot during their win in Pukekohe and, with 67-test veteran Kaino absent on Friday, it's time for understudy Luatua to step up again.

There's no time like the present.

* Speaking of which, the Hurricanes are leaving it extremely late to find a jersey sponsor before the season starts for them on Friday in Canberra against the Brumbies.

Hurricanes Ngani Laumape and Nehe Milner-Skudder attended last week's Super Rugby launch in Auckland in jerseys without a sponsor on the front, and after making inquiries to the franchise's head office a few days later the Herald was told an announcement was imminent.

In this case no news is bad news. It is understood the front-of-jersey sponsorship is worth six figures to the New Zealand franchises. It would be a bad look if the team ran on to Canberra Stadium in sponsor-less jerseys.

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