Asafo Aumua took no part in the Hurricanes' final preseason victory over the Blues in Warkworth on Thursday and was a curious absence from Chris Boyd's 28-man squad to tour South Africa and Argentina.
Last year the 20-year-old went from starring with the New Zealand under-20s to Wellington and onto the All Blacks northern tour where he featured in matches against the Barbarians and French XV.
Playing for the All Blacks before a Super Rugby franchise is a rare feat, and speaks to Aumua's long-term potential.
His destructive ball carrying, pace in the wide channels and ferocious defence captured wide-spread attention, but this season has not started well.
While keen to manage expectations around such a young talent, it is understood Aumua's omission from the Hurricanes' opening two matches against the Bulls and Jaguares is because he did not return in the condition expected for Super Rugby.
Hurricanes assistant coach Jason Holland confirmed as much as the Hurricanes departed for South Africa on Friday.
"There's little things he would've tweaked in the way he spent the first few weeks around Christmas but nothing around lack of effort," Holland told Radio Sport's Brenton Vannisselroy. "It's around the way he trains. We're just looking to him to get some running metres under the belt over the next few weeks in Wellington and he'll be absolutely flying to go then.
"We just want to make sure we give him every opportunity to be at his best for the whole season. We don't want to throw him into something when he's not 100 per cent ready to pay footy. He's one we've been careful with. Maybe it was best for him to go home for two weeks and continue his conditioning. He's got a niggly rib injury which probably wasn't too bad but just to make sure we don't throw him in and break him for another couple of weeks."
With Dane Coles on the long comeback trail from his ACL rupture and not expected to return until at least June, turning up out of shape is a real missed opportunity for Aumua.
The Hurricanes have preferred established Taranaki hooker Ricky Riccitelli and Wellington's James O'Reilly for the two-leg trip. He will miss the matches against the Bulls and Jaguares.
Full story via nzherald.co.nz