The comparisons, however odious for Colin Slade, are also obvious.
There is little doubt Canterbury rugby’s latest first five-eighth has the look of an Andrew Mehrtens about him.
Slade, like Mehrtens, is a product of the same Christchurch Boys High School conveyor belt that rolled off Daniel Carter and Stephen Brett.
And like Mehrtens in the mid-1990s, Slade has emerged from somewhere around left field as far as the rest of New Zealand are concerned — although he will be centre stage during the Air NZ Cup final against Wellington on Saturday night (7.35pm).
A member of the New Zealand under-19 and -21 teams, Slade has risen to prominence nationally during the latter stages of Canterbury’s Air NZ Cup campaign, although he has been there from day one.
Even with Carter only to be used as an emergency after helping the All Blacks retain the Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup, Slade was not expecting to see much game time in red and black.
Brett was Carter’s heir apparent — and even touted as a possible All Black before the first squad of the year was announced — while Hamish Gard was ranked No 2.
However, Brett’s misfortune with injury saw Slade make the bench as early as Canterbury’s shock season opening loss to Manawatu in Christchurch and although the Crusaders and New Zealand Maori rep reclaimed the spot, a quad injury against Hawke’s Bay on September 27 ended his involvement.
Brett’s absence was potentially a blow but Slade’s all round competence has been a bonus for Canterbury during the sudden death phase of the competition.
He turned 21 the night Tasman were beaten 48-10 in the quarters while he was also a standout when Hawke’s Bay were eliminated 31-21 in Christchurch last weekend.
A Mehrtens-like line break set up the first try for Andy Ellis, he scored the second, kicked well and saved a certain try when the game was in the balance, denying Bryn Evans under the posts when the score was 28-14.
However, his rugby coming of age looms under lights at Westpac Stadium when he is faces his stiffest opposition.
Slade’s ability to handle a swirling breeze at the venue and the realisation he will be targeted suggest he could determine Canterbury’s fate.
Canterbury coach Rob Penney, seeking a title at his third attempt, was confident Slade was equipped to add to his 92-point haul this season.
“It’s been a massive year for Colin. For him to be in the driving seat and to have done as well as he has has been a great credit to the young guy and (assistant coach) John Haggart, who’s done a great job in bringing him on,” he said.
“I can see where the Mehrts comparisons come from but it’s a big call to compare him to the great man.
“Colin’s certainly his own man, he’ll get to his own place in good time,” Penney said, before adding to the expectation placed upon his playmaker.
“An All Blacks jersey is not out of the realms of possibility if he keeps up with the performances to date.”
Former Canterbury and Wellington coach Aussie McLean, a former first five-eighth, thought Slade resembled another player of Mehrtens’ vintage, Southland’s Simon Culhane.
“He’s just made humungous strides. You expect him to control things and pass well, but you don’t expect him to take the ball to the line and, with his tackling, he reminds me of Simon Culhane,” McLean told The Press newspaper.
Meanwhile, All Blacks halfback Piri Weepu, press-ganged into the Wellington No 10 jersey as the union seeks a long-term option, admitted his province could look south with envy.
“Canterbury seems to find these first five-eighths every year, they’ve always got talent,” he said.
Weepu confirmed Wellington would look to exploit the relatively inexperienced Slade and halfback Tyson Keats — who replaced Andy Ellis in the starting line-up after the All Blacks’ knee injury did not recover sufficiently.
“I guess it could be an area (to exploit) but they’re pretty solid,” Weepu said.
“They’ve got Richie (McCaw) to help them out there and the eight (Kieran Read).
“That channel will be offered to us at times but we have to look at other options too.”