There's been little talk of Liam Squire's Rugby World Cup prospects since All Blacks coach Steve Hansen revealed the loose forward had withdrawn from consideration for the Rugby Championship squad.
But after a damaging 45-minute spell in Tasman's 45-8 decimation of Wellington in Blenheim in the opening round of the Mitre 10 Cup, that's likely to change.
In his first game of competitive rugby since fronting for the Highlanders in their Super Rugby semifinal against the Crusaders in late June, Squire made an immediate impact in the No 8 jersey for the Mako. Crossing the line for the game's opening try in just the fourth minute, Squire was a force with ball in hand and got stuck into his work around the breakdown and defensively.
While his name has been a rarity in recent points of focus around the All Blacks, there's been a lingering question of will he or won't he be available for the squad announcement for the tournament in Japan in late September.
When asked about where things stood with the All Blacks' incumbent blindside flanker and a potential return to the representative environment at a press conference last week, Hansen said nothing had changed.
For the time being at least, the All Blacks have the luxury of rolling out Ardie Savea in the No 6 jersey in the first-choice loose forward trio alongside Sam Cane and Kieran Read, but if Squire can show he's getting back to anywhere near his best and makes himself available for selection, Hansen will have yet another tough decision waiting on the horizon.
Hansen and the All Blacks selectors will have plenty of those already on their plate when they have to trim their current squad from 34 to 31, with the midfield well noted as an area of particular difficulty. That won't be made any easier by Sonny Bill Williams, who got through a full 80 minutes in Counties Manukau's 34-29 loss to Taranaki in Pukekohe – his second 80-minute performance in as many weeks.
The veteran midfielder is fighting to show the selectors he is fit and healthy after being held back by various niggling injuries over the course of the Super Rugby season and early in the Rugby Championship. Williams showed plenty of class and touch in his running and offloading game, with a couple of highlight plays to show for an otherwise quiet performance.
Quiet though he might have been for the majority of the contest, the longevity of his performance was likely the only factor the selectors were paying much attention to as he fights for a spot in the final 31-man squad with Anton Lienert-Brown, Jack Goodhue and Ngani Laumape, who all fronted for the All Blacks against the Wallabies, and the currently injured Ryan Crotty – who is, at this stage, expected to be fit come World Cup time.
While much of the focus was on Squire and Williams in the early fixtures, Waikato had a point to prove in the final match of the night.
The Championship division battlers weren't just up to the task of handling perennial Premiership contenders Canterbury, but proved to be too good on the night and claim a 31-28 win.
Waikato No 10 Fletcher Smith was the standout performer on the night, and will be worth keeping an eye on through the competition as he auditions to fill Beauden Barrett's vacant jersey at the Hurricanes.
Tasman 45 (Leicester Fainga'anuku 2, Liam Squire, Andrew Makalio, Tyrel Lomax, David Havili, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidevta tries; Mitchell Hunt 5 cons) Wellington 8 (Alex Fidow try; Jackson Garden-Bachop pen). HT: 26-3.
Taranaki 34 (Penalty, Sean Wainui, Waisake Naholo, Lachlan Boshier, Jackson Ormond tries; Daniel Waite 2 cons, pen) Counties Manukau 29 (Chris Kuridrani, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Conan O'Donnell, Daniel Hyatt tries; Riley Hohepa 2 cons, pen; Andrew Kellaway con). HT: 29-19
Waikato 31 (Josh Iosefa-Scott, Quinn Tupaea, Hamilton Burr, Valance Te Whare tries; Fletcher Smith 4 con, pen) Canterbury 28 (Josh McKay 2, Luke Whitelock, Sam Gilbert tries; Brett Cameron 4 con). HT: 14-21