Ollie Ritchie: Veteran halfback TJ Perenara could be All Blacks asset once again

OPINION: The noise was all about Cam Roigard in the capital this year - for good reason.

After his breakout season last year saw his stocks rise all the way to an All Blacks debut, he'd very much picked up where he left off.

His Super Rugby form had him ahead by the length of Courtenay Place in the race to succeed Aaron Smith as first-choice halfback for New Zealand.

TJ Perenara matches up against Chiefs counterpart Cortez Ratima.
TJ Perenara matches up against Chiefs counterpart Cortez Ratima. Photo credit: Photosport

Sport doesn’t really care for that, though, and Roigard’s Super Rugby season has been brutally ended with a torn patella tendon.

He’ll play again this season, probably on the end-of-year tour, but until then, his absence leaves something of a hole at No.9 for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson.

Which brings us to another of Wellington’s favourite sons.

TJ Perenara has endured a more difficult couple of years than most. An Achilles injury suffered in 2022 and reaggravated last year saw him out of rugby until Super Rugby pre-season in February.

Perenara is built of strong stuff. He used that setback to come back fitter and stronger, and his game is reaping the benefits.

Against the Chiefs, Perenara was the most influential player on the park. He controlled the tempo of the game superbly, quick decision-making put his teammates in space to expose tired Chiefs defenders and the Hurricanes were able to capitalise.

After the Chiefs had stuck their noses in front, his second try completely changed the complexion of the match, as he ran the perfect halfback support-line to finish off a superb team effort.

That moment sparked the Hurricanes back into life. From there, they stormed home with a wet sail.

Robertson would’ve watched that game very closely. The match-up between Perenara and Chiefs counterpart Cortez Ratima was an intriguing one.

Perenara got the better of that battle. He made life uncomfortable for Ratima around the breakdown, disrupted his ball on several occasions, slowed his pass down and generally made a menace of himself.

TJ Perenara scores a try against the Chiefs.
TJ Perenara scores a try against the Chiefs. Photo credit: Photosport

That's just what the All Blacks could do with. With Roigard sidelined and Aaron Smith retired from international duties, the halfback positions are wide open.

Finlay Christie shapes as a certainty, but that leaves two other spots.

Perenara should have one of them. His experience will be vital and, if he can influence the All Blacks attack the way he has the Hurricanes, he'll be an asset for Robertson and co.

The All Blacks coach has options.

No doubt Ratima, Folau Fakatava and Noah Hotham will all be considered as well, but if Perenara can continue the sort of form he displayed against the Chiefs, he shapes as a certainty for the July series against England and Fiji.

Ollie Ritchie is Newshub's rugby reporter