Blue Chips – Buy Buy Buy
Lima Sopoaga, Flyhalf (Highlanders)
The word on the street is that Lima won’t return to play this week against the Cheetahs as first thought, rather the coaching staff have decided to give him an extra week to ensure that he can lead the troops for the rest of the season. Pick him up while you can! Apart from a fixture against the top of the table and undefeated crusaders, the Highlanders have one of the best runs home of any team in terms of fixtures. Sopoaga will want to take full advantage of this to even get a look in for the All Blacks, given how well the likes of Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden and Richie Mo’unga have been performing this season.
Ash Dixon (Highlanders)
Dixon played all 15 regular season games for the Highlanders in 2016 and was a large part of the Highlanders 2015 Super Rugby winning campaign. Whilst he is no Dane Coles, Dixon was a consistent performer in a class Highlanders outfit and will be looking to return to similar form. Despite Liam ‘Wolfman’ Coltman who is revered down in the Zoo and has been in great form all year, I think it will be a matter of time before Dixon is back in the starting side adding an important leadership element up front.
Smokies – Buy Low Sell High
Pete Samu, Backrow (Crusaders)
With All Black captain and crusaders stalwart Kieran Read out for likely 6 weeks after a broken hand and his backup from earlier in the year Whetu Douglas off to play in Italy, Samu looks like the front runner for a starting position in this undefeated saders side. Taufua will likely move to the back of the scrum with Samu filling in the blindside flanker position. Samu had a ripper (65 points) in his one start of the season, albeit against the sun wolves and has done well in recent weeks with a 30 & 35 from 30 – 40 mins game time.
Fred Zeilinga, Flyhalf (Cheetahs)
Returning from injury, Zeilinga has moved from Hold- watch this space in last weeks Stock Market to the Smokies. He had been one of the better fly halves in the early weeks of the 2017 competition in a really exciting Cheetahs backline. We’ve listed him as a smokie because we are reasonably confident he will be returned to his starting 10 jersey and tipping him to return to his early found form and re-ignite a fiery Cheetahs side.
George Smith & Hendrik Tui, Backrow (Reds)
There were some pretty big expectations from the Reds back row in 2017 and whilst Scotty Higginbotham has been killing it at 8, the others not so much. George Smith is one of the greatest rugby players Australia has ever produced and the 35 year old joined the reds off the back of player of the tournament performances in the English Premiership and Japanese Top League competitions. Whilst he hasn’t been lighting up Super Rugby as he had been these inferior competitions, he has been the quiet achiever, getting through a mountain of work and building both form and physicality week by week. In his 150th Super Rugby cap two weeks ago (51 points) and similarly against the Tahs this weekend past (43 points), he has started inflicting his will upon the games. I only see him getting better from here.
Hendrik Tui was a revelation for the Reds last year with his hard, Sean McMahon like ball running and big defense. The Japanese international complements the back three with his style of game has really just needed some game time to get back into the flow of things this year. Brisbane youngster Adam Korcyzk has been breathing down Tui’s neck, with an impressive off season and preliminary games that ultimately earned himself the start over Tui in the early rounds of the 2017 season. Korcyzk has indeed been great but he doesn’t strike the balance quite like Tui, Smith & Higganbotham have going on now. A consistent 40 pointer each week in 2016, I’m backing Tui also only to get better and to start from here.
Hold – watch this space
Melani Nanai, Outside Back (Blues)
Last week we said hold the entire Blues Backline and it turned out we were right in our prediction that Umaga would run SBW & Moala in the centres and bump the exciting youngster Rieko Ioane out to the wing. This dropped Nanai to the bench despite his great form throughout the season. It’s definitely not a done deal and I’m sure there will be further re-shuffling to come. If you did need a reason to hold onto him, Nanai scored a try (almost 2) when he came off the bench and quickly racked up a score of 41 in limited minutes. Personally I don’t understand why Nanai isn’t starting at fullback over Michael Collins!
Ben Smith, Outside Back (Highlanders)
Ben should be return from a minor injury in 2 weeks against the Force in perth. As previously mentioned, the Highlanders have one of the best runs home of any team in terms of fixtures. Ben will be raring to go once back to firstly – secure himself the AB’s jersey with the likes of Israel Dagg and NMS still battling to overcome injury and secondly – to take the Highlanders 2017 campaign into the playoffs! For weekly Super Rugby injury news, check out the Casualty Ward.
Marty Banks, Outside Back (Highlanders)
Whilst there is no doubt Marty ‘Money in the Bank’ has been in outstanding form this year, particularly off the kicking tee, with Lima Sopoaga set to return next week it will be back to a familiar bench spot for the Otago man. Marty played for Treviso in the 2016/2017 season and will probably be looking overseas to continue his endeavours.
Aidan Toua, Outside Back (Brumbies)
Similarly to Marty Banks, Toua has displayed some of his best form to date in 2017, really stepping up his defense and his probing kick returns have generated many counter attacking opportunities. Toua has a different Banks problem though, with gifted Queensland youngster Tom Banks given the start at fullback (his preferred position) last week against the Blues and didn’t waste a second of his opportunity. Likened to Wallaby great Chris Latham, Banks will seriously be competing for game time in the 15 jersey if he hasn’t usurped Toua already.