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Challenging times ahead for the Chiefs – Super Rugby 2018 Preview

By Ben Smith
Chiefs Preview

The Chiefs are set to face their most challenging year in over a decade after enjoying unprecedented success under ex-head coach Dave Rennie. The Rennie era is over at the Chiefs – and with him a host of key players such as Aaron Cruden, Hika Elliot, Michael Leitch and James Lowe have departed.

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Rennie transformed the Chiefs from also-rans into an attacking superpower during his time at the helm, capturing two titles in the first two years. The third title proved elusive despite the Chiefs getting better as Cruden aged and Damian McKenzie emerged. They lit up the competition in the early stages of 2016 and 2017 but stumbled in the finals in late season fade-outs.

It is set to be a transition year for the Waikato-based franchise. How can you lose such quality and maintain the same level of success? It will be a tremendous achievement if they remain one of the top teams.

New head coach Colin Cooper will no doubt have his own style of play to implement, and this is bound to take time to bear fruit. Add in the fact the Chiefs will also lose Super Rugby’s best attacking fullback when they move Damian McKenzie into first five-eighth, there seems to be too much change to overcome without road bumps.

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It must be a tempting to keep the star where he has been so valuable to them, but with the departure of Cruden now is the time to build around McKenzie at 10. Although whether he will be as effective without the foil of another quality playmaker remains to be seen.

The strength of the Chiefs looks to be in the forwards with the likes of Kane Hames, Mitch Graham, Brodie Retallick, Dominic Bird, Sam Cane and Liam Messam. With the bulk of experience in the pack, the team will continue their unrelenting pressure up front as the young backs figure things out.

However, there is no shortage of talent in backs, with Shaun Stevenson, Solomon Alaimalo and Toni Pulu ready to step up into more prominent roles. There will be concerns around mid-fielder Charlie Ngatai’s health, giving opportunities to Alex Nankivall, Regan Verney and Johnny Fa’auli.

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Tim Nanai-Williams and Anton Lienert-Brown will be crucial to this emerging backline, but the best of this young crop will be seen in future years if they can remain together.

The Chiefs will still be a good side, but if there was any year for them to struggle – this is it. They will battle for third in the New Zealand conference with the Highlanders and Blues, but we will back the Blues to finally produce and leave the Chiefs last in the New Zealand conference.

2018 Predictions

New Zealand Conference Placing: 5th

Player of the Year: Brodie Retaliick

Rookie of the Year: Luke Jacobson

Breakout Player: Solomon Alaimalo

Best Signing: Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi

Super Rugby Placing: Mid-table

Franchise History

Best finish: Champions in 2012 and 2013

Worst finish: Eleventh in 2010

Squad Movements

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In: Tyler Ardron (Ospreys), Levi Aumua (Tasman), Fin Hoeata (Taranaki), Tiaan Falcon (Hawke’s Bay), Luke Jacobson (Waikato), Marty McKenzie (Crusaders), Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Hurricanes), Regan Verney (Wellington).

Out: Finlay Christie (Hurricanes), Aaron Cruden (Montpellier), Stephen Donald (Counties Manukau), Hika Elliot (Oyonnax), Siegfried Flsiihoi (Stade Francais), Glen Fisiiahi (Counties Manukau), Tawera Kerr-Balow (La Rochelle), Michael Leitch (Sunwolves), James Lowe (Leinster), Matiaha Martin (Counties Manukau), Brayden Mitchell (Southland), Tom Sanders (Crusaders), Sebastian Siataga (Bay of Plenty), Chase Tiatia (Bay of Plenty), James Tucker (Waikato).

Squad: Liam Polwart, Nathan Harris, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Aidan Ross, Atu Moli, Kane Hames, Mitchell Graham, Nepo Laulala, Sosefo Kautai, Brodie Retallick, Dominic Bird, Fin Hoeata, Michael Allardice, Lachlan Boshier, Liam Messam, Luke Jacobson, Mitchell Brown, Mitchell Karpik, Sam Cane, Taleni Seu, Tyler Ardron, Brad Weber, Jonathan Taumateine, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Damian McKenzie, Marty McKenzie, Tiaan Falcon, Alex Nankivell, Anton Lienert-Brown, Charlie Ngatai, Johnny Fa’auli, Regan Verney, Levi Aumua, Sam McNicol, Shaun Stevenson, Solomon Alaimalo, Toni Pulu, Tim Nanai-Williams.

 

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M
Morne 10 hours ago
Thanks but no thanks, the All Blacks do not need to copy the Boks

Some further observations: Most Rugby lovers I know agree that the AB’s have been the gold standard for as long as anyone can remember - very few people disagree. The odd time that any other team has some sort of ascendency - there are always those (albeit the minority) NZ supporters that need to remind us of the AB’s glorious gold standard that anyone winning them is only down to a mixture of pure luck or some or other sinister reason or bias from match officials (or indeed the Universe). For reasons mentioned above, any other team with some ascendency over the AB’s (even if it is the 1st time in 100 years) may not receive a pat on the back and a well-done - as they only did so out of pure luck. In my opinion, if the Boks were in the same realm as the AB’s SF opponents - they would have been smashed also - whether with 14 or 13 or 12 players. But remember they were just “lucky”. As a Bok supporter, I will say this team has done our proud - despite losing some games along the way. Like the AB’s, the games the boks lose are 9/10 times one score games - this is a long way from hidings like 57 - 0…And in that we must be proud. Most of these type of articles - especially those focusing on the RWC final rather conveniently leave out any mention of Pieter Steph du Toit, or even Eben Etzebeth who won all their collusions all day long. So to those very very few bad loser AB supporters out there (definitely the minority) - I’ll say what you want to hear - the AB’s are without any doubt the best Rugby brand ever. They have consistently achieved what all other teams can only dream of. And no doubt they will scale those heights again. Now what about allowing others the odd ray of sunlight that comes our way?

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