Return of Solomona, Frizell set to boost Highlanders

Denny Solomona
Denny Solomona
Plenty of firepower is on its way back for the Highlanders in the coming weeks.

Electric utility back Denny Solomona is available for selection on Sunday, while star flanker Shannon Frizell has a chance of being back next week.

The duo will bolster a team that has come into form in their absence.

Frizell was arguably the Highlanders’ standout player in the early part of the season.

The blindside flanker had been carrying strongly, providing a dynamic impact prior to a knee injury in the win over Moana Pasifika six weeks ago.

Assistant coach Clarke Dermody confirmed the 17-test All Black was "not far away".

Sunday’s match against the Waratahs at Forsyth Barr Stadium would be too soon though, he said.

Shannon Frizell
Shannon Frizell
However, Frizell was a chance to take the field next Sunday against the Rebels in Melbourne.

If not, he would likely be back for the playoffs, Dermody said, which the Highlanders are looking increasingly good for.

"He’s sort of back running and starting back into training with us," Dermody said.

"Maybe that game [against the Rebels]. It will be a pretty close call, though, for that week. Potentially the week after, if we get that far."

Solomona, who joined the team midseason, made just three appearances before being ruled out with a hamstring injury prior to the team’s three-week road trip.

The former England international brings a ton of flair, although he will have to find a spot to fit in a backline that finally clicked in last Friday’s 61-10 win over the Force.

Lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit, who was injured in the same game as Frizell, remains "a few weeks away".

Standout prop Ethan de Groot will miss this weekend through All Black rest protocols, although will be back to face the Rebels.

Mitch Hunt was the only new injury concern from last week, having clashed heads with Richard Kahui late in the game.

Dermody said he was going through the protocols around that.

Perhaps that made Sam Gilbert’s move to the first five, in place of Hunt, a timely one.

Gilbert barely put a foot wrong at the pivot, running strongly, using his offload to great effect and kicking accurately off the tee.

Certainly, it might have been an easier game to look good in.

If he can make that form a regular occurrence, though, it will mitigate the likely loss of Hunt.

"Who would’ve known, eh?" Dermody said.

"There was a lot of doubt around that [Gilbert’s selection at first five]. The one person that knew was Browny [head coach Tony Brown]. He knows his players.

"Really happy for Sam — he controlled the team really well and had a bit of a point of difference with his running game and his offload.

"I’m really happy for him. Obviously puts his name right in the hat for that 10 jersey."

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