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Super Rugby Pacific 2024: McKenzie and Stevenson dominate, Love becomes an All Black

By Ben Smith
(Photos By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images/Joe Allison/Getty Images/Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The RugbyPass Round Table writers answer the big questions ahead of the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season. Ben Smith (BS), Finn Morton (FM) and Ned Lester (NL) weigh in on a range of topics and make their predictions for the season.

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Who will be the MVP of Super Rugby Pacific 2024? 

Ben Smith: The Chiefs and Blues have strong squads but after last year’s blistering campaign that saw him bag 12 tries and a maiden All Blacks cap, fullback Shaun Stevenson should be able to run it back with another incredible year. The 27-year-old sits on the end of one of the best backlines in the competition with some of the best finishers going around in Emoni Narawa and Etene Nanai-Seturo.
Last year Stevenson was top three in line breaks and tries and had the second-most running metres. It was his ability to come up with a big play that mattered the most, with Stevenson going to another level for the 13-1 Chiefs.
Mark Telea of the Blues might have a case, particularly after last season which saw him top many of the attacking stats. Telea was certainly the most dangerous man in Super Rugby and opened the season with a bang with 200+ running metres against the Highlanders. His form with the All Blacks in 2023 and with the Rugby World Cup was also spectacular and he is likely to continue that form in 2024.

Finn Morton: The clear-cut fan favourite for Super Rugby Pacific MVP is Chiefs playmaker Damian McKenzie. If the Chiefs are to challenge for a title in 2024, which they will, then McKenzie needs to be on song for the entirety of their campaign.

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Even with Brad Weber in the team last season, there is no question who was leading the Chiefs around the park with the ball in hand – McKenzie was the star of the show. Sure, Shaun Stevenson made all the headlines during a try-scoring blitz, but McKenzie deserves plenty of plaudits for the work he did to set-up the star winger.

That’ll be no different this time around. With a potential hold on All Blacks No. 10 jersey waiting for him at the other end of the Super Rugby Pacific season, now is the time for McKenzie to truly make his mark. The always-exciting playmaker can’t let up now.

But across the Tasman, a dark horse for Super Rugby MVP honours waits. Noah Lolesio, the forgotten Wallaby in some ways, will do a similar job to McKenzie with the ACT Brumbies. If the Brumbies are shine then Lolesio must lead the way.
Other honourable mentions include Fraser McReight from the Queensland Reds, Will Jordan from the Crusaders and Dalton Papali’i from the Blues.

Ned Lester: Is it too soon to say it? Surely, it’s too soon… Are we getting ahead of ourselves? Maybe, but Cam Roigard is well-positioned to be the most influential player in Super Rugby Pacific 2024.On a practical level, halfbacks have their hands on the ball more than any other player on a rugby field. And, disregarding the comparisons, Antoine Dupont has shown the world how a running, playmaking halfback can change the whole focal point of an attack.

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Certain players reinvent the game, but only if the coach is brave enough to fully embrace and empower their strengths, and since Dupont and France have laid down the blueprint, it’s there for new Hurricanes coach Clark Laidlaw to employ. If he does, Roigard will have every opportunity to have an MVP-esque season, given his talent and form at every level in 2023.

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Who will be the breakthrough player of the year in Super Rugby Pacific 2024? 
BS: There are many breakthrough candidates who have the potential to take it to another level in 2024. There are those who want to become Super Rugby starters and those starters who want to become stars.
From the Blues, midfielder Corey Evans impressed during the pre-season and could likely establish himself as a second five with Rieko Ioane outside him while Zarn Sullivan has the chance to start a lot at fullback and impress. First five-eighth Stephen Perofeta is a candidate to go from starter to star and dominate Super Rugby. Up front, lock Cameron Suafua can become a well-known name.
At the Crusaders 21-year-old hooker George Bell can make a name for himself while Ethan Blackadder is one can make the leap into the superstar realm. Blackadder was hampered by injury last year and had a two-year absence from the All Blacks. At the Hurricanes players like Aidan Morgan, Peter Lakai and Riley Higgins want to become established starters.
The Highlanders might have signed a gem in 25-year-old centre Tanielu Tele’a who has come down from the Blues while Folau Fakatava looks set to dominate this season and become a true star of Super Rugby.
This should be the year of Perofeta, so the Blues pivot is the final pick to breakthrough with a season like Stevenson last year.

FM: This is probably the most interesting question ahead of the 2024 season. With the start of a new World Cup cycle upon the rugby world, the opportunity for uncapped wonders step up and have their voices heard at Test level awaits. But it all starts in Super Rugby.

Cam Millar and Sam Gilbert from the Highlanders deserve to be mentioned, as does Chiefs halfback Cortez Ratima – the latter appears destined to be an All Black in 2024. But in terms of the breakthrough player of the year, look no further than Hurricanes fullback Ruben Love.

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Love has played for both the All Blacks XV and Maori All Blacks in the past, but a potential Test call-up under New Zealand coach Scott Robertson awaits the young playmaker. The 22-year-old, who flats with All Black Cam Roigard, can play either fullback or fly-half.

After an injury-riddled campaign in 2023, if Love can stay on the field and remain fit this time around, then he will be an All Black in 2024.

While Will Jordan appears likely to shift to fullback under Robertson, there’s every chance Love could make the No. 15 jersey his own while Jordan remains on the wing with the All Blacks.

NL: Dallas McLeod will spend his days during 2024’s Super Rugby Pacific campaign going toe-to-toe with past, present and future All Black midfielders in David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Ryan Crotty and Levi Aumua. With mentorship from Jack Goodhue as well to begin his career, you can begin to see where this guy’s complete skillset has come from.If iron sharpens iron, McLeod is on his way to becoming the sharpest thing in rugby outside of Josua Tuisova’s calves.

The challenge of course will lie in selection. With all that talent it will take some form for the 24-year-old to crack the starting unit. With Ennor expected to return from injury in the second half of the year and Crotty being 35, McLeod is at least looking at a bench role for the majority of the campaign, and the Crusaders are rarely afraid to reward form.

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Comments

5 Comments
C
Chris 146 days ago

Please stop these senseless “prediction” articles. Slow news day, rather post about old and fantastic games from days gone by and the greats that played that day, or hell analysis or statistics, heck anything but this $@*%

S
Shaylen 147 days ago

I think literally 2 or 3 Australians mentioned in this whole article. Shows you the state of this competition and where the balance of power lies. Super rugby is essentially a farce with all the honours only ever going to one country. How can you even call it a competition if the Aussies barely stand a chance from the outset and cant even make it past the quarters. NZR and RA really need to do something about it if Super Rugby is going to become a sustainable money spinning pipeline which engages fans and results in anything other than losses to be written off the balance sheet.

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