Hurricanes coach Jason Holland says Julian Savea is showing signs of his old All Blacks self, as he returns to start on the wing in Super Rugby Aotearoa this weekend.
It will be the first Super Rugby start for the man known as 'The Bus' since July 2018, following an up-and-down spell in France.
Savea, who has scored 52 tries in 120 matches for the Hurricanes since making his debut more than 10 years ago, has worked harder than anyone to work his way back into the squad, says Holland.
"If [there's] anyone who's actually had to earn the spot it's Jules," Holland said. "Any discussions I've had with him, when we were talking about whether he came back from France, have been really impressive.
"He's a massively mature guy now who's desperate to do well and be as good as he can be, on and off the field. We've thrown challenges at Jules, he came in as a replacement player last year and we didn't give him a crack, and his response was awesome.
"The way he's playing, he's got his body in great nick and he's everywhere, shades of where he was in the black jersey. We're excited about Jules and he's given himself every chance to do well."
Savea will start alongside younger brother Ardie, who will play in his 100th game and his first as captain at No 7, in a strong lineup featuring All Blacks rookies Du'Plessis Kirifi and Peter Umaga-Jensen on the bench.
Ardie Savea is part of a reshuffled loose forward trio with big men Vaea Fifita and Devan Flanders, a move that Holland hopes will help combat the Blues' physicality.
"We're aware of the threat the Blues have and how we counter them and meet them head on around physicality."
The Blues have listed All Blacks props Karl Tu'inukuafe and Ofa Tuungafasi on the bench, such is their depth in the front row, with Nepo Laulala starting alongside surprise selection James Lay, who makes his Super Rugby debut at loosehead.
Leon MacDonald says his starting lineup, which features seven All Blacks, was designed to get the most out of the team to last 80 minutes.
"James has performed well for us in the preseason and Karl is going well and he's got unique strength, especially around scrummaging," MacDonald said.
"It's around balancing our team to give us an all-round 80 minute performance that in this game in particular we're going to need, and having Karl coming off the bench to help finish the game gives us more strength."
MacDonald says the acquisition of Laulala from the Chiefs adds more firepower to their already strong prop stocks.
"He's a renowned scrummager, we know he's very powerful in the scrum. He's physical, especially around defence," MacDonald said.
"He's a good pro, and he's working hard, and he's going to be a great addition. We're excited to have him in the Blues jersey, that's for sure.
"He put a few big shots on last weekend, so he doesn't mind getting into that physical stuff."
Hurricanes v Blues - Saturday, 7.05pm, Sky Stadium
Hurricanes: Jordie Barrett, Wes Goosen, Billy Proctor, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Jonathan Taumateine, Devan Flanders, Ardie Savea (c), Vaea Fifita, Scott Scrafton, James Blackwell, Tyrel Lomax, Asafo Aumua, Fraser Armstrong
Reserves: Ricky Riccitelli, Xavier Numia, Alex Fidow, Reed Prinsep, Du'Plessis Kirifi, Luke Campbell, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Salesi Rayasi.
Blues: Stephen Perofeta, Mark Telea, Rieko Ioane, Harry Plummer, Caleb Clarke, Otere Black, Sam Nock, Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papalii, Akira Ioane, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Patrick Tuipulotu (c), Nepo Laulala, Kurt Eklund, James Lay
Reserves: Luteru Tolai, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Josh Goodhue, Tom Robinson, Adrian Choat, Jonathan Ruru, Tanielu Tele'a.