When George Moala damaged his shoulder in a pre-season trial he thought his debut Super 15 season might be over before it had begun.

There was talk of an operation but Moala was determined to take his chances rehabbing the injury.

His persistence has worked and the 21-year-old will start for the first time tonight in a Blues jersey on the wing against the Highlanders in Dunedin.

He will mark All Black speedster Hosea Gear in one of the mini-duels, which will form part of this compelling contest.


The Blues are out of the race for a semifinal, cut down by their own ineptitude as much as anything but desperate to collect some credibility.

The Highlanders are coming off a bye and looking to reclaim the form they had in the early part of the Super 15.

Moala wants to show some of the ability which encouraged the selectors to pick him for the Blues after a mere seven games in the ITM Cup for Auckland.

His speed and power were evident in that provincial series and the question now is whether he can take those skills to the next level.

Moala may be shy but he is confident he can make the grade. So, too, Rudi Wulf, who has been a mentor to the young Tongan all season but will be missing from this contest because of a shoulder injury.

"It's been a long time coming and hard with injuries but to get a start this game is great," Moala said.

He was hurt in a February trial game against the Hurricanes, when his shoulder bent backwards as he tried to offload in a tackle.

But anyone who has seen him benchpress 170kg in the gym knows he has recovered.

Even the Blues props struggle to match him and while Moala reckons he could push more, he knows he has to balance that power with work on his speed, agility and skills.

He is blessed with a strong physique like his father, Timote, who was picked for Tonga but bypassed rugby to raise and care for his family.

Moala's shoulder is fine now and he tested it for 20 minutes in his substitute beginning for the Blues last week against the Sharks.

He began making rugby progress at Tamaki College as a backup No 8 before he shifted to the outside backs where he now plays for his Grammar-Carlton club.

"They told me I was too fast for No 8 so they chucked me out into the backs," he said.

Moala is as quick as anyone in the Blues and likes to test his attacking talents against any defender. His style is unmistakable and so, too, his flowing rat's tail.

It has no family or religious significance, just a reminder of the days before he cut his bushy afro.

Moala wants to repay Wulf tonight for having the compassion and patience to nurture him this season.

"I was nervous and I hang around him all the time," he said. "I should be all right without him for this game."

Whether that applies to the Blues will be decided by mid-evening.

Under-seige coach Pat Lam has made several big calls for this match which will mark Luke Braid's debut as captain.

Lam has ignored Piri Weepu again, picked an under-performing Ali Williams and given new roles to Hadleigh Parkes at fullback and Benson Stanley on the wing.

Desperation or little alternative? It's probably a mix of both as the Blues head south to try to get their results graph going north.