Highlanders and All Blacks loose forward Liam Squire has been ruled out of the match against the Blues at Eden Park due to a knee injury.
Squire, who was noticeably fired-up on defence early against the Crusaders during the Highlanders' narrow loss in Dunedin last weekend, suffered the injured early in the game but played on.
Now he has been ruled out for up to six weeks, another blow for a Highlanders team who lost flanker James Lentjies to a dislocated elbow in the first minute of the 30-27 loss to the Crusaders.
"He did it early in the game and to his credit he kept going, he fought through it," assistant coach Scott McLeod said of No8 Squire.
"It's huge," McLeod said of the injury blow. "We felt he had an outstanding night and really motivated a lot of our players. He did a lot of damage, but in saying that, we've got other players who will step into that void and hopefully bring that same intensity."
The Highlanders are already without loose forwards Dan Pryor (knee) and Shane Christie (mystery illness), but may welcome back No8 Luke Whitelock from a shoulder injury for the match against the Blues on Saturday night.
Tasman flanker Christie, a Highlanders co-captain last year, has been suffering from an undiagnosed illness which has ruled him out of pre-season and his team's first two matches, and McLeod said it was a frustrating time for the player.
"It's a really slow process and what we do know is that if he increases his intensity in training he feels it physically and with his head."
A boost is a potential return from concussion of fullback Ben Smith. McLeod said the All Blacks No15 was a possibility to return if he passed the team's concussion protocols this week.
The Highlanders will arrive in Auckland after two defeats and will take on a Blues team who impressed early against the Rebels but slipped in their defeat to the Chiefs in Hamilton.
"They have a lot of X-factor across the park and they're putting that all together and they can be a really powerful team," McLeod said. "The challenge for us is not letting them get into their game."