Welcome to the end of the Blues' season, or as their long-suffering supporters may call it: June.
To be fair, it has been a while since the Blues' chances of making the playoffs were alive so late in the year and Super Rugby has traditionally awkwardly paused at this time in order to shoehorn in three domestic tests, but that has all changed now – the season runs right through as it always should have – and, regardless, I felt I needed a weak joke in which to start what won't be the last Herald post-mortem on this most frustrating of franchises.
These in my view are the Blues' top 10 performers this season in another year of disappointment. Their fate was finally confirmed when they contrived to throw away a 21-5 lead against the Reds in Brisbane and they put the metaphorical icing on the cake against a Hurricanes B team with nothing to play for in Wellington at the weekend when giving up a 24-5 advantage.
Despite their often eccentric displays during their 16 matches which included five victories and left them 13th of 15 teams, there were some very good performances from some individuals. This is a collection of the team's best, and it's judged on consistency, mainly, but also the player's ability to do something a little magical.
10) Sonny Bill Williams
The All Black midfielder played only six matches due to a variety of injuries, most significantly a shoulder problem which caused him to start late and a knee injury which required surgery. Played 80 minutes on his comeback against the Hurricanes in almost certainly his final game and he did pretty well, considering. It proved he's still an offloading genius and occasionally devastating defender. His finest moment may have been when he captained the Blues to their win over the Sunwolves at North Harbour in early March. It was their first of the season and he was genuinely affected by the victory and his role in it.
9) Caleb Clarke
The 20-year-old had to wait for his opportunity this season after being named and then ruled out of the team to play the Sharks in Durban due to a knee injury suffered in the days before. Clarke, mild-mannered off the pitch, was occasionally a powerful attacking force on it. A former track sprinter, he has pace and size and he used both to good effect during his nine games.
8) Ofa Tuungafasi
There has always been a lingering feeling from some of those outside the inner sanctum that Tuungafasi, a giant prop who can play both sides of the scrum, hasn't reached his full potential despite obvious power levels that would make even other international players weep with envy. It's always seemed that he has more to give, that if he got a little angry then he could put his size and undoubted talent to better use. Well, he got a bit closer this season. He was part of a front row which occasionally troubled opposition scrums, although often it was via a bench role. Played 14 matches and got an impressive four tries.
7) Karl Tu'inukuafe
A first season at the Blues heading towards personal triumph ended with a debilitating virus which ruled him out of the final three games. The big loosehead prop was named to start for the Blues against the Bulls at Eden Park three weeks ago but was scratched on the eve of the match and hasn't been sighted by the media since, even at training. Tu'inukuafe, a massive scrummaging force, played 11 matches. He's been challenged by the All Blacks coaches to improve and trust his ball-playing ability and he occasionally delivered in entertaining fashion – particularly in the Blues' close loss to the Chiefs in Hamilton.
6) Akira Ioane
The big No8 played all 16 matches at an average of 78 minutes each; a remarkable display of consistency and durability. There are few better running off the back of an attacking scrum and his combinations with brother Rieko on the wing were a study in understanding wrought from countless games in the family backyard. Akira defended well and there were few better at dragging the Blues over the advantage line, often while carrying one or two opposition defenders.
5) Rieko Ioane
Like many of his teammates, Ioane's form dropped considerably in the final stages of the season. His ball-handling in particular troubled him against the Hurricanes in Wellington. But earlier in the season he was occasionally brilliant - unstoppable, even - and one of Leon MacDonald's biggest decisions was working out when to rest him. Rieko scored all four of his team's tries against the Sunwolves and a double in their next match against the Highlanders at Eden Park; their first win over a Kiwi team since 2016. He was easily his side's best attacking weapon and they looked poorer without him.
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4) Tanielu Tele'a
Tele'a got his first Super Rugby opportunity after he was promoted to the reserves bench for the match against the Sharks in Durban after Caleb Clarke was injured, and scored a try with virtually his first touch of the ball. The 21-year-old, normally a centre, played eight of his nine games on the wing and impressed with his explosiveness and fearlessness. Unfortunately he was banned for four weeks after a tip-tackle during the win over the Stormers at Eden Park, but otherwise he had a very good first season.
3) Tom Robinson
The 24-year-old blindside flanker known as Sauce for his flaming red hair, and, possibly, his wicked sense of humour, was a revelation for the Blues this season – his first at this level. Knee injuries have kept him back until this year but he made up for lost time with a storming start, although he plateaued later, a drop-off which may have been exacerbated by a concussion injury which sidelined him for a match. Aggressive and a real pest at the breakdown for the opposition, Robinson has a surprising turn of pace. He can also play lock and has attracted the attention of the All Blacks selectors.
2) Melani Nanai
The owner of possibly the happiest feet in the competition, Nanai was a standout for the Blues due to his ability to either score tries (he got five in 16 games), or provide them (six try assists). He made an incredible 23 offloads. There are few better in sniffing out a tight forward in a defensive line and making him look a bit silly with a bit of nifty footwork. Nanai, still only 25, has always possessed talent, but not always consistency. This year he found both but is off to play for the Worcester Warriors.
1) Ma'a Nonu
Nonu looked all of his 36 years back in February when marking Crusaders 21-year-old Braydon Ennor. It turned out his comeback wasn't finished there, it was just getting started. The former All Blacks midfielder's influence for the Blues cannot be underestimated this season. He turned 37 last month and yet he didn't miss a training session let alone a match due to illness or injury. Don't let his slightly off performance off the bench against the Hurricanes at the weekend cloud your judgement of Nonu. He was immense for the Blues this year, surely his last in New Zealand. His effort against the Chiefs in Hamilton when he bulldozed over for two tries was remarkable.