It’s that time of year again where we say goodbye to the players moving on to pastures new as their time at the Arms Park comes to an end. After last summer’s mega 21 player cull it’s back down to an expected level of departures this year, but no less sad to bid certain players farewell.
After three seasons and 62 appearances for Cardiff Blues, All Black cap Hoeata will depart over the summer and return to his native New Zealand to play for North Harbour in the 2017 Mitre 10 Cup, the country’s provincial competition.
The big lock was a marmite player at the start of his Cardiff career, with some loving his physical style, while others became annoyed with the resulting disciplinary issues as games of ‘guess the yellow card time’ became common on the terraces, despite the fact he didn’t even pick up a card at all during 2015/16.
As he entered the final season of his contract there seemed to be little doubt that he would leave at the end of 2016/17, especially with a niggling back problem, but Hoeata’s form improved significantly in the last six months, with 14 starts after Christmas and some superb performances.
Unfortunately they came too late to secure a new contract at CAP, with Damien Welch and Franco van der Merwe already signed, a new deal with a significant pay cut was not an option and Hoeata returns to the Southern Hemisphere, although we may well see him in France by the Autumn.
Just like last summer with Rhys Patchell, we are losing another homegrown player to one of the Welsh regions this year as Cory Allen leaves to join the Ospreys after six players as a senior player at Cardiff Blues.
Having played for Dinas Powys and then Glamorgan Wanderers in his youth, he made his Cardiff Blues Anglo-Welsh Cup debut in 2011, before really breaking through in 2013/14.
The following year was undoubtedly his best in a Cardiff jersey, with four tries in 20 games, leading to a 2015 World Cup call-up and a hat-trick against Uruguay in the opening group game.
However, a torn hamstring towards the end of that game was the beginning of a nightmare year of injuries, which also included ankle surgery, as the centre played just six games in 12 months.
Allen returned to start the first five games of this season, but struggled to find any sort of form and, aside from a spell on the wing around Christmas, has mostly featured for the Wales 7s. Cory goes to Ospreys with our best wishes, and hopefully he can re-discover his mojo to play a big role for Wales in the future.
A player who was never really able to make his mark in the Cardiff Blues jersey, American international Dolan moves on after only making five Pro12 and European starts in two seasons.
Despite being comfortable at number eight, blindside and lock, the Florida born man could not break into the regular matchday 23, mainly due to competition rules that state only two non-Kolpak players may be in each squad.
With New Zealanders Nick Williams and Jarrad Hoeata, as well as fellow American Blaine Scully, all ahead of him in that respect, it meant Dolan was largely restricted to Anglo-Welsh Cup, British and Irish Cup and Cardiff RFC appearances. He shall be specifically remembered for his Rags hat-trick against Bedwas in January of this year.
There is no confirmation yet on where Cam will move onto next season, but with a big summer of rugby with the USA Eagles national side he’s sure to be concentrating on that first and foremost.
One of this season’s ringers, brought in to cover during the great injury crisis, loosehead Thomas arrived from Jersey having previously spent four seasons at the Ospreys.
With Gethin Jenkins, Rhys Gill and Brad Thyer stuck in the treatment room, Thomas seemed in line to be in the starting XV throughout his stay, but the emergence of Corey Domachowski from the senior academy squad saw him restricted to just one Anglo-Welsh Cup start and only six minutes of Pro12 rugby.
Whether Thomas will return to Jersey remains to be seen, but with the four players mentioned above, as well as young Rhys Carre, stocking the loosehead ranks, there was very little chance of minutes in the first team next season.
Another ringer, this time brought in at scrum-half, Cowley arrived after a season ending injury to Lewis Jones left just Lloyd and Tomos Williams as the senior contingent in contention to wear the nine jersey.
Unfortunately for him, both players stayed fit and free from Team Wales duty, restricting the Samoan international to just two Anglo-Welsh Cup appearances and some British and Irish Cup outings.
Cowley will return to New Zealand where he is contracted to play for Waikato in this season’s Mitre10 Cup.
Back-rower Sheekey is another being released having come through the Cardiff Blues development pathway, although he will stay within it having signed solely for Cardiff RFC for next season.
The 22-year-old, who will be 23 by the time the season begins, has been let go after only making six Anglo-Welsh cup appearances in three years, and never breaking into the Pro12 or European matchday squad.
Injury problems in 2015/16 restricted him to only 5 Rags games for those 12 months, but a try scoring performance against Exeter suggested he could be a further back row option, at a time when Wales has a shortage of emerging number eights.
However, Danny Wilson has deemed the former Wales U20 cap surplus to requirements, and we will continue to track his development in the Welsh Premiership and possibly in the British and Irish Cup.
Another former Wales U20 international who only ever appeared in the cross border cups is hooker Belcher.
The 21-year-old didn’t even manage a start in a Cardiff Blues jersey, and, alongside playing in the British and Irish Cup, featured heavily for Pontypridd this last season, even filling it in the back row at certain points.
He now moves to Ponty full-time, under new head coach Justin Burnell.
Another moving on to Sardis Road from next season is flanker Sieniawski, who only made his Anglo-Welsh Cup bow this season, featuring against Exeter and Sale.
The openside was part of the 2016 U20 Six Nations winning Welsh team, and was selected again in this year’s tournament, but will leave the academy setup this summer and ply his trade in the Premiership.
Gee is the final name on the list who has played a senior game for Cardiff Blues, although he too has only appeared in the Anglo-Welsh Cup during his time at the Arms Park.
Another Wales U20 cap, the winger helped Merthyr RFC to the Premiership title last season, and makes the move to The Wern on a permanent basis over the summer.
There are some other confirmed departures from the academy, albeit players who never got a chance in the first team. Wales U20 hooker Corrie Tarrant has signed full-time with Pontypridd, while centre Declan Williams has headed off to Australia.
With Rhodri Davies, BJ Edwards, Salesi Ma’afu and Tavis Knoyle having left the club earlier in the season it takes the total number of departures up to around 15.
Unlike last season though the majority are very much fringe or youth players with few appearances between them, bringing a much more settled feeling to the senior squad ahead of 2017/18.
Good luck to all the departing players in all their future endeavours. The gates of the Arms Park are always open for a return, except Ma’afu who I feel like would eat all the burgers.