The Blues have locked Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in to start his maiden Super Rugby campaign from second five-eighth.
Covid disruptions denied Tuivasa-Sheck the valuable chance to begin his rugby union transition last year after cutting short his final season with the Warriors to return to New Zealand.
Tuivasa-Sheck is one member of the three Auckland-based NPC teams who have not played a match for seven months.
Training in the sweltering summer heat ensures Tuivasa-Sheck is in great shape, though, and he is now expected to debut at No 12 in the Blues' first pre-season hit out against the Hurricanes in Mahurangi on February 5 and back that up the following week in the second trial match against the Chiefs in Te Puke.
Blues coach Leon MacDonald has been impressed by the 28-year-old's dedication and hunger to learn. While Tuivasa-Sheck is sure to encounter challenges in his cross-code switch, MacDonald is eager to unleash his prized recruit.
"He trains every day like he plays," MacDonald said. "They must do a lot of contact in league because he was into it from the first warm up drill so that's not an issue. Until we go live and he gets some minutes under his belt that's when he'll feel a lot more comfortable with where he's at so we'll try to help him fill those voids if there is any."
MacDonald confirmed Tuivasa-Sheck would compete with the likes of Harry Plummer and Tamati Tua for the second-five role this year.
"He's enjoying it, he's busy, he's around the ball a lot which he likes. That's where we're playing him. He looks really good there. He likes being in the middle of the play and have the ball in his hands. He's able to take the line on and he enjoys the physicality so he likes the defensive side of it as well. At the moment it looks like it suits him.
"He's contributing well but he wants to get out there and play a game because it feels like forever. He's had the carrot out in front of him and it keeps getting pulled out from his feet."
Several of MacDonald's All Blacks contingent - Akira and Rieko Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Hoskins Sotutu – trained with the squad on Tuesday, despite being on leave.
Of the Blues' All Blacks only Sotutu, who had a light test workload in 2021, will feature during the pre-season. MacDonald confirmed his All Blacks will return on a managed minutes basis for the Blues' opening match against Moana Pasifika at Mt Smart Stadium on February 18.
Beauden Barrett is in doubt for that game while he attempts to shake off the lingering concussion effects from the heavy head knock he sustained in the defeat to Ireland over two months ago, but MacDonald appears confident he will soon return.
All Blacks are not required to return to their respective franchises until the end of the month, having emerged from MIQ in mid-December.
"He's not with us at the moment he's taking a bit of extra time. He's fit, I know he's been looking after his body. It was a busy year for him last year and we'll start to see him come through the gates soon.
"It's hard to be concrete around anything with concussion but he's trending in the right direction. He's getting better, that's the main thing, and he's really positive in his own mind. It's a hard thing to predict so you don't want to get hung up on those sorts of things."
Ahead of an already remoulded Super Rugby Pacific season due to New Zealand's closed border situation, the Blues are preparing for further disruptions from the inevitable arrival of the Covid-19 omicron variant.
"We're ready for that, we've got lots of plans in place. Two years on we're still talking about the same hiccups ahead of us.
"We're going to be having lots of guys at home at some point this year. The depth of our squad is going to get tested.
"The reality of the country is it's coming and it's going to get a lot of us. We've got to be ready for it as best we can. Being healthy and taking all the precautions helps but we're expecting it to get into the team at some point."