Top-flight sport heads into Whangarei for the long weekend although it is a winter code that starts the summer festival.

The Blues play the Hurricanes today before the Black Caps host Zimbabwe in Monday's one-dayer.

It will not matter to those who hanker for any sports spectacle, the north is buzzing about the prospects.

Rugby watchers starved of contests for three months since the World Cup finale can pick up the threads again as the Blues and Hurricanes open their trial game sequence before the February 24 start to the Super 15.


The Blues will use Jerome Kaino and Anthony Boric from their list of All Blacks. But others such as captain Keven Mealamu who are making their way back into their best trim after late starts to their training regimes, are excused work.

However there will be enough to interest spectators and the coaching staff who have to sort out replacements for those such as Jared Payne, Joe Rokocoko, Luke McAlister and Stephen Brett who have left last year's roster.

Men such as Rudi Wulf, Ma'a Nonu and Piri Weepu will be expected to deliver when available and fit while the inquest to find a first five eighths starts all over again.

Former Blues pick Michael Hobbs opens today while Gareth Anscombe will take over for the second spell of the afternoon match at Toll Stadium.

The Hurricanes will use the game for similar inspections as they embark on a campaign without a number of disaffected senior players who left the franchise.

This is the fourth year coach Pat Lam has been in charge of the Blues. His sides have finished 9th, 8th and 4th last season with demands on all components of the franchise to improve in this campaign.

Both teams are ready for some real work, they are sick of the drills, fitness routines, whiteboard sessions and theory.

Conditions may be warm but this is the start of the players' push for regular selection with the opening game against the Crusaders just weeks away.


Lam will be looking at individuals' attitude and aggression, especially on defence which he has nominated as one area for overall improvement.

"Everyone is hanging for a hitout after all the training," said Lam. "It's about systems and combinations."

The bulk of the squad will be used. Some All Blacks such as Isaia Toeava, Weepu, Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock and Mealamu will not figure nor promising lock Liaki Moli who has recovered from shoulder surgery but has strained a hamstring.

For others such as former All Black Brad Mika it will be a welcome run after missing last year with knee and achilles tendon injuries.

Another former international Daniel Braid is also geared up again after neck problems.