Chiefs look capable of going all the way

Damian McKenzie and the Chiefs would like to go one better this season. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Damian McKenzie and the Chiefs would like to go one better this season. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
One of these teams will win the Super Rugby title this season — bank on it. Hayden Meikle continues our countdown by examining the four New Zealand sides north of the Waitaki.


Last year: Ugh. Won 10, lost 4, qualified second, beat Drua 49-8 in quarterfinal, beat Blues 52-15 in semifinal, beat Chiefs 25-20 in final.

Coach: Rob Penney (replaces Scott Robertson).

Key forward: Scott Barrett is potentially the All Blacks captain-in-waiting and the sort of talismanic figure every side would like to have in their forward pack.

Key back: Not everyone is convinced of David Havili’s credentials as a test-quality midfielder but he has delivered, time and time again, in a Crusaders jersey.

One to watch: Noah Hotham, the former Alhambra-Union and Highlanders under-20 halfback, could be set for stardom.

Chances: No Razor, no Richie Mo’unga, no Sam Whitelock, no Will Jordan, no Leicester Fainga’anuku — do we dare to dream the dynasty is over? We do. The loss of Mo’unga is the biggest concern, even if Fergus Burke is a handy replacement, and Jordan’s injury on the eve of kick-off is seismic. Still plenty of punch in the backs with Sevu Reece, Dallas McLeod and newcomer Levi Aumua, and Barrett guides a forward pack with lots of size and power. But this is certainly a weaker Crusaders team.

Meikle’s prediction: Fourth, if last is not possible.


Last year: Won 13, lost 1, qualified top, beat Reds 29-20 in quarterfinal, beat Brumbies 19-6 in semifinal, lost to Crusaders 25-20 in final.

Coach: Clayton McMillan (fourth season).

Key forward: Wind up hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho and watch him go. Devastating in open play.

Key back: The wee wizard Damian McKenzie is potentially the most influential player in Super Rugby now, and will be eager to play well again with an All Blacks No 10 jersey open.

One to watch: Quinn Tupaea already has 34 caps but has been out of action for a while and will be keen to remind the national selectors of his ability.

Chances: You had one job! It will be a long time before some of us forgive the Chiefs for falling at the final hurdle and letting the enemy celebrate again. They’ve lost a lot of experience (Sam Cane, Brodie Retallick, Brad Weber) and will miss midfielder Alex Nankivell and loose forward Pita-Gus Sowakula. But every team has seen departures. The Chiefs look balanced and strong and deep. McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown and Shaun Stevenson guide a superb backline, Luke Jacobson and Samipeni Finau highlight the loose forwards, Manaaki Selby-Rickit will put pressure on Josh Lord and Tupou Vaa’i at lock, and Aidan Ross and Ollie Norris add experience at prop.

Meikle’s prediction: Champions.


Last year: Won 10, lost 4, third, beat Waratahs 41-12 in quarterfinal, lost to Crusaders 52-15 in semifinal.

Coach: Vern Cotter (replaces Leon McDonald).

Key forward: No 8 Hoskins Sotutu must be highly motivated to perform after missing World Cup selection.

Key back: Stephen Perofeta has plenty of ability and now must find consistency at first five to make his own bid to replace Mo’unga with the All Blacks.

One to watch: Taranaki midfielder Meihana Grindlay was man of the match in the NPC final.

Chances: Great, as long as they don’t have to play the Crusaders in the playoffs. Cotter is a no-nonsense type and has inherited a deep squad with both power and pizzazz. Mark Tele’a, Caleb Clarke and Rieko Ioane are backline weapons, Finlay Christie is a reliable halfback, Akira Ioane and Dalton Papali’i complete a formidable loose trio, and Kurt Eklund and Ofa Tu’ungafasi anchor the front row. The one concern is at lock following the injury to Patrick Tuipulotu.

Meikle’s prediction: Second.


Last year: Won 9, lost 5, fifth, lost to Brumbies 37-33 in quarterfinal.

Coach: Clark Laidlaw (replaces Jason Holland).

Key forward: Tyrel Lomax is one of the elite tightheads in world rugby — and every great team needs a great tighthead.

Key back: He is two games away from 100 caps and Jordie Barrett might be the single key to the Hurricanes’ chances of winning a second Super Rugby title.

One to watch: Ruben Love has oodles of talent, can play either 15 or 10, and has long been seen as an international of the future.

Chances: Easily the most difficult New Zealand team to assess. The Hurricanes will go far if they keep their best XV on the park and if Barrett, Cam Roigard, Xavier Numia, Asafo Aumua and Aidan Morgan have big seasons. But losing the great Ardie Savea to a sabbatical will have an effect, and there are more journeymen than stars in some positions.

Meikle’s prediction: Fifth.