Sean Fitzpatrick: who can stop the Chiefs?
Sean Fitzpatrick looks at the New Zealand contenders who could stop the Chiefs winning a third title in a row.
Last Updated: 19/02/14 11:41am
The former All Black hooker also has high hopes for the Blues and is hoping that the Hurricanes and Highlanders put up a decent fight too.
Last season: 10th
Head coach: John Kirwan
Captain: Luke Braid
Ground: Eden Park, North Harbour Stadium
Best performance: Champions (1996, 1997, 2003)
Forwards: Tom McCartney, Keven Mealamu, James Parsons, Charlie Faumuina, Sam Prattley, Angus Ta'avao, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Tony Woodcock, Tom Donnelly, Liaki Moli, Hayden Triggs, Patrick Tuipulotu, Kane Barrett, Luke Braid, Jerome Kaino, Steven Luatua, Brendon O'Connor, Peter Saili
Backs: Jamison Gibson-Park, Bryn Hall, Piri Weepu, Baden Kerr, Chris Noakes, Benji Marshall, Pita Ahki, Ma'a Nonu, Francis Saili, Jackson Willison, Frank Halai, George Moala, Charles Piutau, Lolagi Visinia.
Sean Fitzpatrick says: John Kirwan did a good job last year in turning them around into a team that is competing. It is time for them to push on this year though. A lot of the youngsters that came through last year are still there and the experience of last season would have done them a world of good. They have also got some experience coming in with Ma'a Nonu and Tony Woodcock being added to the squad - hopefully it will be a better year for them after a disappointing 2013 and being back in the right environment will help them. The return of Jerome Kaino from Japan is the big one for me; he was the best No.6 in the world in 2011 and it is going to be interesting to see where he is at. He will be vital in the terms of them going forward. I am excited about the Blues this year and think they can be there or thereabouts come August. Injuries will play a big part - as it will for all teams.
Player to watch: All eyes will be on former league star Benji Marshall. I am interested to see how he goes. The best teams always have a good No.10 and it is the one area where I think the Blues No.10's really could step up. As for Marshall, well let's wait and see what he does. He has gone to the right team as John Kirwan has been there and done that in both codes.
Last season: Champions
Head coach: Dave Rennie
Captain: Liam Messam/Aaron Cruden
Ground: Waikato Stadium
Best performance: Champions (2012, 2013)
Forwards: Ben Afeaki, Sam Cane, Nick Crosswell, Hikawera Elliot, Ross Filipo, Mike Fitzgerald, Josh Hohneck, Tanerau Latimer, Jamie Mackintosh, Pauliasi Manu, Rhys Marshall, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Mahonri Schwalger, Liam Squire, Matt Symons, Ben Tameifuna, Kane Thompson.
Backs: Bundee Aki, Gareth Anscombe, Aaron Cruden, Robbie Fruean, Andrew Horrell, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, James Lowe, tom Marshall, Mils Muliaina, Tim Nanai-Williams, Charlie Ngatai, Augustine Pulu, Robbie Robinson, Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
Sean Fitzpatrick says: They are just a phenomenal team, a class act. The hallmark of the Chiefs is their coaches. They have the most amazing set of coaches in the way they work oppositions out and in the way they manage their squad. They are as good a pick as anyone to go all the way and make it three wins in a row. Liam Messam epitomises what the Chiefs are all about really. They will miss Craig Clarke without question. They are not a flashy team at all but they are a team that deliver collectively and Dave Rennie obviously knows the right buttons to push.
Player to watch: Tom Marshall was the standout player in the ITM Cup and a lot of people were saying he should have been in the All Blacks squad in place of Ryan Crotty. Whether Marshall would have scored that try against Ireland in the last minute, I don't know! I would also like to see Robbie Fruean do well, he has had some health issues but is an excellent player. The coaching staff have a lot to do with turning Aaron Cruden from a good player to a world class player and I hope they have the same impact on Fruean who has the same potential.
Last season: Lost to Chiefs in semi-finals
Head coach: Todd Blackadder
Captain: Richie McCaw
Ground: AMI Stadium
Best performance: Champions (1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008)
Forwards: Dominic Bird, Wyatt Crockett, Corey Flynn, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Nepo Laulala, Richie McCaw, Joe Moody, Tim Perry, Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Jordan Taufua, Codie Taylor, Matt Todd, Jimmy Tupou, George Whitelock, Luke Whitelock, Sam Whitelock.
Backs: Tyler Bleyendaal, Daniel Carter, Ryan Crotty, Israel Dagg, Mitchell Drummond, Andy Ellis, Zac Guildford, Willi Heinz, Ray Lee-lo, Johnny McNicholl, Nemani Nadolo, Colin Slade, Tom Taylor, Adam Whitelock.
Sean Fitzpatrick says: The time has come for them to win again. I am sure that is the message that Todd Blackadder is getting from all their fans. I am sure the players are saying that as well - the likes of Richie McCaw and Kieran Read will definitely be urging on the troops to perform this season. They certainly have the team to win it and have a squad littered with players who could all make the starting XV. They have plenty of world-class players and some young exciting players too. Jordan Taufua is an outstanding young prospect. He captained the U20's last year and has a lot of potential.
Player to watch: I think hooker is an area of concern for New Zealand and I am keen to see how the likes of Hurricanes hooker Dan Coles, Liam Coltman from the Highlanders and Ben Funnell from the Crusaders go this season.
Last season: 14th
Head Coach: Jamie Joseph
Captain: Ben Smith/Nasi Manu
Ground: Forsyth Barr Stadium
Best performance: Runner-up (1999)
Forwards: Josh Bekhuis, Shane Christie, Liam Coltman, Matias Diaz, Elliot Dixon, Gareth Evans, Ma'afu Fia, Tom Franklin, Kane Hames, John Hardie, Jarrad Hoeata, TJ Ioane, Chris King, Nasi Manu, Brayden Mitchell, Brad Thorn, Joe Wheeler
Backs: Kurt Baker, Phil Burleigh, Jason Emery, Malakai Fekitoa, Patrick Osborne, Hayden Parker, Willie Ripia, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Winston Stanley, Fumiaki Tanaka, Shaun Treeby, Frae Wilson * one more player to be added after Buxton Popalii withdrew for season due to heart surgery.
Sean Fitzpatrick says: They were the underachievers last year and need a big year. It is so important to start well and last year they just did not get off to a good one at all. They have lost most of their big names - they still have Ben Smith in the side though. Maybe not having the big names will suit Jamie Joseph's coaching style and they can go back to the days of just delivering based on passion and pride which was surely missing. Brad Thorn is still going strong at 40 years of age which is just outstanding. He will have a big part to play in getting the forwards fronting up. Ben Smith was the only player who stepped up last year; this year the leadership of him and Aaron Smith will be crucial. Aaron Smith had a disappointing year last year for the Highlanders but hopefully this year he can deliver.
Player to watch: Liam Coltman at hooker has the chance to impress this season.
Last season: 11th
Head coach: Mark Hammett
Captain: Conrad Smith
Ground: Westpac Stadium
Best performance: Runner-up (2006)
Forwards: Mark Abbott, James Broadhurst, Dane Coles, Ash Dixon, Ben Franks, Reggie Goodes, Jack Lam, Faifili Levave, Motu Matu'u, Mark Reddish, Ardie Savea, John Schwalger, Brad Shields, Eric Sione, Blade Thomson, Jeremy Thrush, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Victor Vito
Backs: Beauden Barrett, Marty Banks, Tim Bateman, Cory Jane, Alapati Leiua, James Marshall, Hadleigh Parkes, TJ Perenara, Matt Proctor, Julian Savea, Conrad Smith, Chris Smylie, Andre Taylor, Cardiff Vaega.
Sean Fitzpatrick says: They are always there or thereabouts but then fall over with ill-discipline and let themselves down. That was the case last year and Mark Hammett will be under pressure to sort that out. Players like Victor Vito, Jeremy Thrush, Brad Shields, John Schwalger give them a solid Super Rugby core that should be able to supply their backs - which include Conrad Smith, Cory Jane and Julian Savea - with some quality ball. Their squad depth is maybe a bit of a concern.
Player to watch: Ardie Savea has the ability to make a mark this season. With a year to go until the World Cup he, along with the likes of TJ Perenara and Brad Shields, could stick their hands up and show that they can produce the goods at the top level.
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