Early season form suggests this match-up will be a tough titanic battle.

Blues coach Vern Cotter's firm hand will see player rotations become a regular selection feature in Super Rugby Pacific, which starts against the Highlanders in Super Round Melbourne.

All Blacks centre Rieko Ioane will be missing a slight hamstring strain this week, while fellow All Black Finlay Christie has made way for Taufa Funaki. Laghlan McWhannell has been given a start at lock with Josh Beehre on the bench, and Bryce Heem starts at second five-eighths with Harry Plummer also on the bench.

The front row sees All Blacks prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi return with Ricky Riccitelli at hooker and Marcel Renata, while Akira Ioane returns on the blindside of the scrum for Anton Segner, who suffered a side injury against the Drua.

Cotter said, "There will be rotations all the way through.

"We're going to need everyone in the squad. I came out of some big seasons beforehand, so I know the importance of getting to the end fresh.

"If we can do that without too many injuries, that's part of the game."

Cotter said the motivation guiding the Highlanders has already been apparent.

"They've strengthened their wings and they've got a good kicking game. They're very good at putting the ball down the other end and trying to get you to overplay."

He welcomed Tu'ungafasi's return to the pack.

"It's nice to have him back. He's a reassuring personality to have around the team.

"You know he's right when he starts knocking people around at training. So it's time he had a game, so he's quieter at the start of the week. He's in, so he'll bring the direct style of play, which will be important against the Highlanders.

"We'd like to see him carrying up the middle and in the wide channels. Getting his sleeves rolled up will help us. I've enjoyed working with him.

Having not played since midway through the Bunnings Cup for Auckland, Ioane said he was 'stoked' to be playing again.

"The body is feeling good. It was a bit of a grind coming back with the running, but that's behind me now, so I'm looking forward to playing."

His start is essential in maintaining the competition in the loose forwards, where Segner made such an impression against the Fijian Drua.

"We've always had a strong, loose forward core. They've done the hard work and taken their opportunities. It's my turn now to try to stamp my mark where I want to play.

"We're all close friends; we're not trying to get one-up on each other. It's Anton one day, Adrian Choat the next, then so be it. Anton has made the most of his opportunities, and Choat is not far behind.

"You play better when there's healthy competition because you're always fighting for a spot."

Goals changed each season, and with a new coach, Ioane said he wanted to enjoy his time with his teammates and make the most of it.

(Courtesy of Super Rugby NZ)