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Super Rugby Pacific 2024: Blues and Chiefs to fight for title, Moana to three-peat

By Ben Smith
Emoni Narawa of the Chiefs and Rieko Ioane of the Blues. (Photo by Peter Meecham/Getty Images and Phil Walter/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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Which team will win Super Rugby Pacific 2024?

Finn Morton: Let’s start with a sports cliché: no team plans to lose – everyone wants to be a champion. It’s the holy grail waiting at the end of what promises to be another gruelling, taxing and bone-bruising Super Rugby Pacific campaign. But there can only be one winner.

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Later this year, the sole team standing triumphantly above the rest at the end of the 2024 season will be the Chiefs. With Luke Jacobson and Damian McKenzie leading the way, a Super Rugby crown will return to the Tron for the first time since 2014.

Clayton McMillan’s men were practically perfect throughout the regular season in 2023. The Queensland Reds came to play in New Plymouth and shocked the competition with an all-time upset last season, but other than that, the men from Hamilton were as good as gold.

While past form doesn’t mean a whole lot now, it’s the lessons from that campaign which will separate the Chiefs from the rest of the pack. Sure, they’re preparing for a season without both Sam Cane and Brad Weber, but they have the talent to more than fill the gaps.

Other pre-season fan favourites for the title include the Crusaders, Blues and Brumbies. The Crusaders – if you block out the aura and prestige that surround them – are no longer the same beast. Losing Richie Mo’unga in particular changes the quality of this team drastically.

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The Blues will come close, and maybe even make it to the final, but they will fall short as they so often do. Finally, the Brumbies will obviously want to go all the way, but hosting a home semi-final would likely be seen as a success – and that may be their ceiling at best, too.

Ned Lester: Defence wins championships and it was the Chiefs who conceded the least points in 2023. However, their final opponents, the Crusaders, were more clinical on the defensive side of the ball in the playoffs.

Sam Cane and Brodie Retallick were huge components of the Chiefs’ defence, with the former taking the challenge of chopping down their opponent’s best ball runners on hit-ups. This year, that onus will be on someone else.

If Luke Jacobson can live up to that challenge, and lead by example on the defensive end, he can inspire a championship-worthy performance at the business end of the season. The Chiefs look to be the most complete and capable team in the comp this year.

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Ben Smith: The Blues and Chiefs have finished runners up over the last two years, both losing the final at home to Scott Robertson’s Crusaders. With a new era beginning for the Crusaders, one of the two clubs can break the run of titles by the Crusaders and become the 2024 champion.

The Chiefs have most of their team back which bodes well for a run for the title, minus a few All Black veterans Sam Cane, Brad Weber and Brodie Retallick. They should be one of the top two sides in Super Rugby Pacific and lock in home ground advantage for at least the semi-finals.

The Blues have undergone a rebuild after losing the 2022 final and losing momentum in 2023. But they looked slick in pre-season and will be one of the top sides. Their fortunes rest on how their younger players can step up into big roles, Zarn Sullivan, Cameron Suafoa.

The Blues and Chiefs don’t meet until the final round of the regular season in week 15 which is a shame, by then seedings may have already been determined and players might be rested.

The biggest contender from Australia is going to be the Brumbies who year-in, year-out field a strong team with the best pack in Australia.

The final four will be the Blues, Chiefs, Brumbies and the surprise of the year will be Highlanders. I’ll take the Chiefs over the Blues in the final.

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Which team will take the wooden spoon this year? 

Finn Morton: Looking back at the year that was, the Highlanders, Force, Rebels and Moana Pasifika occupied spots nine to 12 on the ladder as they failed to make the playoffs in 2023. But Super Rugby fans should expect a bit of a reshuffle this time around.

The Highlanders look a lot better in 2024, as their pre-season demolition of the Hurricanes showed in early February. Across the Tasman, the Force defeated the Reds and came close against the Brumbies as well.

But then there’s the Rebels and Moana Pasifika. Both teams will fail to make the grade again this season, although Moana Pasifika will get a few more wins compared to last season – they won’t finish at the bottom of the standings. Instead, it’ll be the Rebels.

Writing a roundtable piece the other day, this writer boldly predicted the Waratahs to come last in Australia, but the latest developments surrounding the Rebels are more than just  concern. With coaches reportedly on four-month contracts, it’s hard to see how the Melbourne-based franchise can generate any form of success.

In a direct contradiction to what was written only a few days ago, the Melbourne Rebels will come last while Moana Pasifika improve ever so slightly to an 11th-place finish.

Ned Lester: It’s Moana Pasifika with the biggest hill to climb again in 2024. Just the one win in 2023 was a result no one would wish on the team, and losing Levi Aumua and Timoci Tavatavanawai was a real blow. That being said, newcomers with international experience like Julian Savea, James Lay and Sione Havili Talitui add plenty of veteran leadership to the team, while a new coaching group led by Tana Umaga will look to inject some more sting and cohesion into the squad.

What we really want to see from Moana is a win in round 11, when the team host the Highlanders in Tonga, their first game in the country.

Ben Smith: No one wants to see another uncompetitive season from Moana Pasifika, but they have lost two of their most damaging backs in Timoci Tavatavanawai and Levi Aumua. The signing of Julian Savea will help fill those holes but it likely won’t be enough.

What new head coach Tana Umaga will bring is unknown, the former All Black great hasn’t been able to build a champion team during his coaching career to date and Moana have far less resources than the Blues. The ‘sixth’ New Zealand franchise is up against it after going 1-13 last year.

They will play one game in Tonga which is a step in the right direction. The turnouts at Mt Smart are a big concern as the team tries to build an identity and fan base. They need to actually play in the Pacific nations, if that is who they represent. We’ve seen what playing in Suva does for the Drua and the incredible support they attract at home.

The Rebels have recruited well but the off-the-field financial woes could well derail the season. It will be hard to keep positive when players are jumping ship in order to secure heir futures. That will happen. When presented an offer from a club with more stability, it’s hard to stick around with so much uncertainty surrounding how the club will be funded next year.

The Force, Rebels and Moana are likely to battle it out to avoid the spoon once again but after finishing with a monstrous -256 negative points differential last year, Moana are the favourites to finish last again.

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