Harmon still doubtful starter for Blues clash

Billy Harmon on the charge in Nuku'alofa. He was later injured in the game against Moana Pacifica...
Billy Harmon on the charge in Nuku'alofa. He was later injured in the game against Moana Pacifica. Photo: Getty Images
Highlanders captain Billy Harmon remains a doubtful starter for the game against the Blues at Eden Park.

Harmon missed the rousing 32-29 win over the Crusaders on Saturday night after sustaining a nasty gash to a hand in the game in Tonga the previous week.

It is relatively early in the week but Highlanders assistant coach Tom Donnelly said yesterday Harmon was in doubt and would continue to be assessed by medical staff in the coming days.

The Highlanders coped admirably without their skipper against the Crusaders but it will mean another daunting challenge for the loose trio at Eden Park on Saturday night. 

Developing No8 Nikora Broughton, young blindside Oliver Haig and classy openside Sean Withy will face the competition’s best trio in Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papali’i and Akira Ioane.

Also in doubt are Highlanders backs Tanielu Tele’a and Connor Garden-Bachop, both of whom are working through HIA protocols.

Valuable points are at stake but the Highlanders’ real motivation this weekend is reclaiming the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy.

The Blues have won four straight games for the "Gordie’’, following a run of six Highlanders wins, the last in 2019.

"The Gordie is a particularly important trophy for this club, more for the person and the man that he was,’’ Donnelly said.

"The values this club hold pretty dearly are what were seen in him as a person.

"We will definitely try to channel that this weekend.’’

Donnelly said the Highlanders coaches had seen plenty of positives in their review of the performance against the Crusaders.

He felt the team had been working hard to get on the right track at the crunch end of the season - confidence had grown as a result - but there were still clear areas that needed improving.

The former Highlanders lock felt his favourite area of the game, the lineout, had operated well against the Crusaders.

Haig was developing his skills as a lineout caller, and the presence of Mitch Dunshea had helped build confidence in the rest of the pack.

As Otago NPC coach, Donnelly has had plenty to do with boy wonder Cameron Millar, and he was delighted to see the first five play with such composure against the Crusaders.

"Cam, for his age, is really mature, and he’s very process-driven, so he sticks to his processes during the week and sets his game up really well.

"We’re just sort of starting to see him get a bit more game time and get more comfortable at this level, and I think he’ll just get better and better with the more time he has.

"You forget he was injured for almost all of last year, so he’s just getting back to his best form.

"He’s pretty level-headed, which is what you need in a world-class 10.’’