Blues skipper set for Super final return

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Captain Dalton Papalii is poised to return via the bench for the Blues in Saturday's sold-out Super Rugby Pacific final against the Crusaders.

Papalii led his team to a record run of 13 unbeaten matches before he missed both the quarter-final win over the Highlanders and semi-final win over the Brumbies following surgery to have his appendix removed.

However the All Blacks flanker has been provisionally selected in the match-day 23 for the all-Kiwi title decider at home at Eden Park in Auckland, with a crowd of 42,000 expected.

Otherwise the Blues are unchanged from the team that just held out the fast-finishing Brumbies.

Coach Leon MacDonald said Papalii is confident of proving his fitness.

"He's got a few boxes to tick," MacDonald said. "He's got to get through a big part of training and feel really confident.

"It's a big game for him to have any doubts so we want him to come off the grass feeling like he's ready to go."

James Tucker will play if Papalii is not deemed fit.

"This is set for a great occasion and is an opportunity to seal an excellent season in front of a full-house at Eden Park. We know what is at stake and we have prepared well," MacDonald said..

The Crusaders regain veteran All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock to the starting side after recovering from a thumb injury, while Quinten Strange has earned a spot on the bench ahead of young lock Zach Gallagher.

With confirmation from the Sanzaar judiciary committee that Argentine flanker Pablo Matera is cleared to play in the final, he will start as blindside flanker.

"As far as finals go, it doesn't get any more exciting than taking on the Blues at a packed-out Eden Park," said Crusaders coach Scott Robertson.

Blues: Stephen Perofeta, A.J. Lam, Rieko Ioane, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Mark Telea, Beauden Barrett (captain), Finlay Christie; Hoskins Sotutu, Adrian Choat, Akira Ioane, Tom Robinson, Josh Goodhue, Nepo Laulala, Kurt Eklund, Alex Hodgman. Reserves: Soane Vikena, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Luke Romano, Dalton Papalii/James Tucker, Sam Nock, Bryce Heem, Zarn Sullivan.

Crusaders: Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, David Havili, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Richie Mo'unga, Bryn Hall, Cullen Grace, Tom Christie, Pablo Matera, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett (captain), Oli Jager, Codie Taylor, George Bower. Reserves: Brodie McAlister, Tamaiti Williams, Fletcher Newell, Quenten Strange, Corey Kellow, Mitch Drummond, Braydon Ennor, George Bridge.

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