In 2020, there will be plenty of opportunities for rising stars to make their mark on Super Rugby. Christopher Reive looks at the top candidates to do just that.
Quinten Strange – Crusaders lock
Strange has shown flashes of his ability at Super Rugby level since making his debut for the Crusaders in 2017. With Sam Whitelock away on sabbatical, the 23-year-old will likely get the first shot starting alongside Scott Barrett in the second row. A strong ball runner with decent passing skills, Strange has looked like a player for the future for the past few seasons. He's a solid option at the lineout, while his strength and determination makes him a major threat from the pick and go game with the try line in sight. Despite the veteran presence of Luke Romano in the Crusaders squad, Strange shapes up as the obvious choice to fill Whitelock's boots.
Jordan Hyland – Blues wing
With Rieko Ioane moving into the centres, Hyland looks set up to come straight into the Blues starting ranks. Hyland made his Super Rugby in 2018 for the Blues, before heading South to link up with the Highlanders last year with whom he scored one try in four games. A local of the northern region and a stalwart for the Northland NPC side, Hyland won't be one to waste an opportunity if it falls to him.
Pita Gus Sowakula – Chiefs loose forward
Having been in the Chiefs environment for a couple of years, Sowakula is a prime candidate to make the step up. A former winger, Sowakula has spent the last few years getting familiar with playing in the forwards at the top level and looks set to have extended opportunities this season. The Chiefs' second and back row shapes up as a bit of a puzzle heading into the season, with plenty of work do be done in preseason by those hoping to claim a spot in the starting side – with plenty of starting-calibre players vying for the 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 jerseys. For Sowakula, his ability to cover any of those roles should give him an advantage and have him in line for plenty of time on the pitch.
Josh McKay – Highlanders outside back
Josh McKay is a player Highlanders fans should be very excited by. The early front-runner to lock down the No15 jersey, McKay is impressive when he gets the ball with some room to move, and he showed with Canterbury during the Mitre 10 Cup his defence is coming along. With the addition of first five-eighth Mitch Hunt to the squad this season, there's every chance the Highlanders could move Josh Ioane back to fullback from time to time, but McKay appears to be the top contender for the role.
Isaia Walker-Leawere – Hurricanes lock
After making some strides at the top level in 2019, particularly toward the back end of the year, the Hurricanes are excited by what Walker-Leawere will bring to the table in 2020. Another team where the locking roles are far from confirmed, Walker-Leawere is every chance to start the year in the run on squad. He's a hard worker in the physical areas of the game and has the ability to create turnovers, while his attacking game shows a lot of versatility for a forward.