Reflecting on the Highlanders' upset over the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday night, Dalton Papalii's fist pump mirrored those outside red and black country enthused at the prospect of a much more open competition.
If there is a shining light for the inconsistent Blues this season, it's All Blacks openside Papalii. Settled in his favoured seven role Papalii has been a standout through the Blues first five games. He again came to the fore with two turnovers and 15 tackles as the Blues eventually subdued the Hurricanes in an unconvincing 27-17 victory at Eden Park on Saturday night.
While the Blues responded from successive defeats to move within four points of the Crusaders, the Highlanders' stunning upset turned heads this weekend.
"What a game, yes, the Highlanders got up," Papalii said with a casual fist pump. "It's good to see any team can get beaten on the day. The Highlanders are like weeds, you cut them but they come back straight away. You can't sleep even one day on the job because the whole competition is up for grabs."
Blues coach Leon MacDonald emulated Papalii's positivity about the Crusaders defeat as the Blues enter their second bye knowing vast improvements are still required for them to be considered genuine title contenders.
"Everybody knew we could beat everyone else but the way the Highlanders beat the Crusaders was a bit of a statement," MacDonald said. "All of a sudden it's opened it right up and they must be brimming with confidence.
"What it shows is the Highlanders were right up for it and the Crusaders were probably two or three per cent not quite there. They beat them to the punch in most areas. They beat them to the cleanout and got some fast ball and played the game they wanted to play. You don't get the Crusaders two or three per cent off very often and they made them pay for it so well done to them. It makes it a very interesting competition."
Papalii offered a refreshingly honest appraisal of the Blues campaign that sees them sit firmly in second place after three wins and two defeats.
"After winning those first two games of the season... all facts there we probably got a little bit complacent with the way we were training," the 23-year-old said. "This week we peeled it back to the basics, especially our forward pack, we have the names but we weren't delivering the killer blow.
"The new Blues, we're hard on each other and we're hard on ourselves. As individuals we know we should be better and we know it's our job to perform."
A four-to-six month pectoral injury blow to All Blacks captain Sam Cane opens the door to the seven jersey, and the consistent physical presence Papalii continues to provide is stating his case to add to his four tests later this year.
"It's not the way you want it. Sam is a bloody good bloke and the skip for the All Blacks for a reason. He's an unreal player. I feel sorry for him and I wish him a speedy recovery. When I heard about that I had a few messages but I'm focusing on the Blues campaign. If you do your job and play well for your franchise higher honours will come."
After bouncing between all three loose forward positions Papalii is relishing the chance to develop rhythm in the fetcher role.
"It's much easier every week focusing on one position. I don't need to think about six and eight. I've got better at learning all three roles but it's massive going into a week knowing you're going to play seven and you can solely focus on those details."
As for the Blues, failing to make the most of a one-man advantage for 20 minutes in the first half after the Hurricanes conceded two yellow cards – one to Ardie Savea could be called dubious at best – highlights their necessary execution improvements.
MacDonald welcomed the bye after a torrid four-match stretch that's left his team mentally and physically spent.
Returning to face the buoyant Highlanders in Dunedin is not exactly an enticing prospect, but with three scheduled games left for the Blues they are intent on lifting from here.
"We're still in the fight which is what we're trying to do every week," MacDonald said. "It's going to be a hectic run home."