Hurricanes hunt Famous Five
Having captured Dane Coles, and expressed optimism about TJ Perenara, the Hurricanes enter a crucial next few weeks quietly confident of securing their Big Five signatures for next year.
While an upset victory over the Chiefs tonight would be a significant pick-me-up in a 1-5 season, resigning Ardie Savea, Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape for 2022 and beyond looms as the club’s top priority. And, luring back Perenara.
As yet, only Coles, who resigned until 2023 this week, has committed to the Hurricanes, of those five key All Blacks who form the core of the side.
‘‘We’re always pretty confident. The boys are enjoying being here and they’re having a great time. As far as I know they’re all going to be here [next year] ... at the moment,’’ said coach Jason Holland.
But with the lure of rugby league and Japanese rugby (Perenara), French rugby (Laumape) and the big-spending Blues (Barrett), the Hurricanes can be hopeful but not bullish.
‘‘We’re having positive conversations with their managers, and the players,’’ said chief executive Avan Lee.
Holland and Hurricanes general manager rugby, Ben Castle, are in charge of building the 38-strong playing roster as the stars sign with New Zealand Rugby.
Coles will lead his team out in Hamilton in the absence of Savea, who is sidelined for at least the next month with a knee injury.
Hurricanes’ player of the year last year, and one of their best again in 2021 as he flits between fullback and first five-eighth, as well as goalkicker and general talisman.
Barrett is signed with NZR until 2022 but has an option to switch Super Rugby sides if he wishes. The Blues have come calling before, and there are two big lures: playing alongside brother Beauden next year and, potentially, up to $250,000 in third party ‘player agreements’ that are uncapped and seemingly more plentiful in the Aucklandmarket.
In March, Lee said the Hurricanes would fight tooth and nail to keep their top players, but third party deals made it tough. ‘‘You’d be pretty naive not to think that other clubs would be interested. Jordie has had some interest in the past so I’d be surprised if that doesn’t happen again.’’
Coles said he didn’t get involved with recruitment or cajoling his mates. ‘‘You give them a bit of stick. Especially Jordie when he signs one-year contracts you go ‘what are you doing mate, hurry up and sign a three-year deal’. There’s banter, but I would never put pressure on them like ‘mate, you got to sign’. You’ve got to respect their decision.’’
A six-month deal worth a reported $140,000 with NRL club the Sydney Roosters is still on the cards as Japan’s season draws to a close. That would still allow Perenara to potentially rejoin the Hurricanes next year, if he wants to leave league and/or Japan behind.
Undoubtedly he’s left their biggest gap, in terms of leadership and on-field influence, and the Hurricanes would welcome last year’s co-skipper back.
Perenara headed to Japan on the understanding he’d return in 2022.
Said Holland: ‘‘He’s got some interesting offers going on, but I’m pretty sure he’s pretty keen to be an All Black and a Hurricane at the moment. That’s my gut feel.’’
Reports in France have linked Laumape with Stade Francais, as he pushes for an All Blacks starting spot with an opening provided by Jack Goodhue’s seasonending knee injury.
Coach Ian Foster and his coselectors may hold the key to keeping Laumape’s interest in New Zealand, but Holland at least was confident he wouldn’t play for another Super Rugby team.
‘‘For 3-4 years now we have had some really honest conversations and he keeps me in the loop around everything that’s going on. He’s massive on his All Blacks aspirations, so that’s all he’s focusing on at the moment,’’ Holland said recently.
Older brother Julian was confirmed as a Hurricane until 2023 in the side’s latest signing news, along with flanker Reed Prinsep and lock Scott Scrafton.
Newly named as captain, Ardie Savea’s passion and commitment to the Hurricanes was clear in their narrow loss to the Crusaders when he played on despite a knee injury. A proud Wellingtonian with a young family and close ties in the capital, it would be a surprise to see him go elsewhere.
The newly announced Moana Pasifika franchise might be one side to pique Savea’s interest, as a staunch advocate for Pasifika players, but that appears a long shot.