Traditionally fraught lines of support for the Blues Super Rugby side appear to be shifting in the North, with Northland Rugby Union officials affirming ties between the Blues and the region's rugby community, its players, and officials are in the best state they have ever been.

Often overlooked as a "little brother" province, Northland's relationship with the Blues franchise has dwindled in past years to the extent that many Northlanders have opted to back other Super Rugby teams in defiance.

But this could all change if reinvigorated ties between the two entities continue to flourish.

"Hand on heart we can say the Blues are working really hard in making Northland feel like a true stakeholder," NRU chief executive Jeremy Parkinson said.


"The profile has been risen, but I suppose if you go back three years or to last year... people supported the Highlanders because Dan Pryor was in there, and this year with Jone Macilai on the wing there's a bit of interest around the Crusaders too."

On the playing field, the proof is in the pudding.

With five players currently contracted to the Blues franchise, a further five are involved with the Blues A side while another five feature in the Blues Under-20s.

Adding to this, nine of Northland's secondary school players are on the talent pathway programme for the under-17s, something Blues high performance manager Tony Hanks says is future-proofing Northland's retention of up-and-coming players.

"Two years ago we put a new high performance plan in place, and part of that was involving the provincial unions," he said.

"I think we've made some real strides."

Noting the early indications appear to be fruitful with the safeguarding of halfback Sam Nock and lock Josh Goodhue, Hanks says there's more incentive now for players to stick within their provinces, especially with opportunities - both financial and developmental - preventing "the need for them to go away from the area".

The benefits are not restricted solely to the players, however.

Entering uncharted territory since former Taniwha coach Bryce Woodward's tenure with the Blues as an assistant coach to Pat Lam, Northland's Mitre 10 Cup coaches Richie Harris and Dale MacLeod are improving their craft coaching the Blues Under-20s and Blues A, respectively.

"They're actually showing a pathway not just for the players, but for the coaches now too, which is great," Parkinson said.

As for growing the Blues' fan base in Northland, only time will tell with whether the region's Super Rugby allegiance shifts.

Northland will host a Blues v Northland Barbarians match on June 24, an improvement on last year's pre-season fixture with the Chiefs at Toll Stadium.

Despite this, the appeal of hosting a regular season Super Rugby match in the North is yet to entice Blues officials.

"They want to bring the team to the province, but the cold-hearted reality is that they're better off playing at Eden Park, filling Eden Park, and making money [rather] than bringing them up to our province where the yield is nowhere near as good as it is in Auckland," Parkinson said.

In the meantime, Parkinson said: "the relationship has been the best it has in my time with regards to transparency.

"Long may it continue, it's really positive."