OPINION - Te Kāea sports reporter James Perry casts his eye over who he thinks are seven Māori players to keep an eye on during this year's Super Rugby season.
OTERE BLACK - (Ngāi Tuhoe, Te Whānau a Apanui, Tūwharetoa) - Blues
With limited game time sitting behind Beauden Barrett in the Hurricanes, Otere Black made the decision to move to the Blues for the 2018 Super Rugby season, before rupturing his ACL playing for Manawatū in the Mitre 10 Cup. The injury meant he missed the entire Blues season, and made his comeback to rugby for the Turbos in Mitre 10 action late in 2018. He came through that unscathed and went on the Māori All Blacks tour of the Americas. With the Blues having not won the title since 2003, their fans will be hoping that with Black at the helm, the team's fortunes will change.
Could Otere Black be the one who leads the Blues to success? Photo/file
AKIRA IOANE - (Ngāpuhi, Te Whānau a Apanui) Blues
Akira Ioane’s time to step out of his brother’s shadow is now. He has been on the cusp of an All Black call-up since he burst on the scene in 2015, and so far has a solitary game against a French XV in 2017 to show for his promise. He is feeling better than ever, and on the back of an outstanding Mitre 10 Cup campaign in 2018, Blues fans could be in for a treat this year, and Ioane might just find himself back in the frame for All Blacks selection. With Keiran Read, Jordan Taufua and Liam Squire set to take up offshore contracts at the end of this year, there will never be a better time for Akira Ioane to realise his potential.
JACKSON HEMOPO - (Tuhourangi, Ngāti Wāhiao) Highlanders
Jackson Hemopo finished 2018 as a three-test All Black. Hemopo, who was playing lock in the Highlanders forward pack was called into the All Blacks squad as flanker injury cover for the third test against the French in Dunedin. He was named on the bench when Liam Squire and Vaea Fifita were ruled out with injury, and took the field as a blood bin replacement for Shannon Frizzell. He came off the bench against Argentina in Buenos Aires and got his first start against Japan in Tokyo. His form with the Highlanders will be watched closely by the All Blacks selectors, and will determine if he is given a boarding pass to Tokyo later this year.
BAILYN SULLIVAN - (Ngāti Kahungunu) Chiefs
Bailyn Sullivan has been given his first Super Rugby start on the right wing in tomorrow night’s season opener against the Highlanders. Sullivan is equally at home in the midfield, and coach Colin Cooper is excited about what Sullivan has to offer his side. The 20-year-old is big, powerful, and has the speed to match. He could cause headaches for the opposition when given the chance. He once scored a length of the field try from a kick restart for the NZ U20 team against Japan at the Junior World Cup in 2018. The former Napier Boys' High School and King’s College star is definitely one to watch for this year.
WHETUKAMOKAMO DOUGLAS - (Te Arawa, Ngāti Porou) Crusaders
Whetukamokamo Douglas was a surprise package for the Crusaders in 2017 when he made his debut as cover for All Blacks captain Keiran Read. He had previously shown his qualities with Waikato at NPC level, winning the Ranfurly Shield with the Mooloos, but it was his breakout year with the Crusaders where he made a name for himself. He reluctantly headed to Italy following that season to honour a contract he had earlier signed with Treviso. He is back, and after leading Canterbury to the Mitre 10 Cup final last year, Douglas is set to resume where he left off with the Crusaders in season 2019.
BILLY PROCTOR - (Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāpuhi) Hurricanes
19-year-old Billy Proctor was signed to a 5-year deal with the Hurricanes in 2018 – the longest contract the franchise has ever offered anyone (and they’ve had Lomu, Cullen, Umaga and Nonu in the past). It's an indication of how much the Hurricanes rate him. The utility back is the younger brother of Matt, who earned an All Blacks call up against Japan in 2018. Whispers around the traps rate younger bro as being better than older bro which could create some interesting competition in the Proctor household if they end up fighting for the same number 13 jersey during the year.
PARI PARI PARKINSON - (Te Whanau a Apanui) Highlanders
Second generation Super Rugby player Paripari Parkinson will again wear the Highlanders jersey his uncle Reuben donned on four occasions in the late 90s, early 2000s. At 2.05m tall, and 128kg, he casts an imposing shadow. Brodie Retallick is his equal in terms of size. And like the All Black lock, Parkinson doesn’t shirk the workload required of a lock forward. His form for Tasman earned him a spot on the Māori All Blacks tour to the USA and South America at the end of last year. His size, work ethic, and athletic ability definitely makes the Māori All Black one player to watch. A seat on the plane to the RWC is unlikely at this stage, however, should the All Black locks become injured, Pari Pari could well find himself in (a very large) All Black frame.