Few rookies will enter the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific with as much of a spotlight on them as Hurricanes phenom Peter Lakai.
The powerhouse No. 8 burst onto the scene during last year’s National Provincial Championship and was one of the driving forces behind Wellington’s unstoppable run to their first title in 21 years, lifting the Ranfurly Shield along the way.
At just 19 years of age, the former NZ U-20s star was arguably the most dominant loose forward in the competition.
He started all 19 matches in his first season as a professional, and the Hurricanes wasted no time securing his services on a three-year contract.
Reflecting on what he’d seen from his new young asset so far, Jason Holland is clearly already a believer.
“He’s a special kid,” said Holland. “He’s desperate to do well and gets better every day.
“I know those are a few cliches but that’s Pete and that’s why he’s come to fruition pretty quickly. He’s training really well.”
The biggest obstacle Lakai now faces is a pathway to quality on-field minutes. The Hurricanes boast a wealth of talent amid their loose forward ranks.
Lakai also has one of the generation’s most formidable All Blacks – Ardie Savea – blocking his pathway to immediate selection, although the mandatory rest imposed for the World Cup should open some opportunities for the youngster to make an impression as part of the run-on side.
And with Savea Japan-bound after the tournament, Lakai has the chance to get one foot in the door as his successor – perhaps in both the black jersey as well as the yellow.
Holland admits he’s going to face some tough – albeit, welcome – decisions when the time comes to name his squad for their first match against the Reds in Brisbane.
“The difficulty for us at the moment, which is a good difficulty is that we’ve got a hell of a good set of loosies that are all going pretty well,” he explained.
“Pete’s going well, Brayden [Iose], Devan [Flanders], you’ve still got your Reed Prinseps your Ardie Saveas and your Du’Plessis Kirifis and your TK Howdens.
“So, when you peel those off, they’re all on top of their game at the moment and injury free, touch wood, and going hard.
“There’s going to be a good transition of loosies and how they compete and who plays in those first five or six weeks.”
But with his displays during their pre-season training, Lakai has ensured his stocks continue to rise, and Holland is excited by what he’s seen.
The youngster has demonstrated a maturity beyond his years, with the brains to match the brawn.
“Pete is a quality, quality carrier of the ball and he’s doing that in training,” noted Holland. “You see the dominance he has around any collisions.
“But he’s also a really smart footballer.”
Lakai will have a chance to shine in the Hurricane’s pre-season hit-out against the Blues in Auckland on Saturday, named in an extended gameday squad for a match where Holland intends to give all 34 players a run.
Hansen says Folau ‘can’t be punished’ forever for anti-gay comments
Former Warriors coach speaks out after being left paralysed by beach accident
Indy 500: Newgarden beats Ericsson to win after three red flags