The 2014 Super Rugby season is still months away, but the Canterbury Crusaders have already fired the first salvo of hot shots. Todd Blackadder believes he’s found one of the most exciting players in next years championship series in young Fijian monster Nemani Nadolo. Blackadder mentioned comparisons to the legendary Jonah Lomu, and believes the power and speed of Nadolo will make next season’s Crusaders a team to be reckoned with.
The new squad announcements had a few interesting surprises along with Blackadder’s signing. Mils Muliaina is coming home to play for the Waikato Chiefs in their championship defence in a move that can only bolster an already strong and determined team. Muliaina will bring his extensive experience, leadership and wisdom to a team that seems to be surging ahead. Along with the boot of Aaron Cruden, the combined powers of Sam Cane and Brodie Retallick and the signing of Robbie Freuan I’d say Waikato are going to be a hard team to beat again next season. I’d certainly suggest they’re looking at a finals berth, along with longtime contenders Canterbury.
By far the most underwhelming announcement was from the Wellington Hurricans who have made very few changes to a side that just wasn’t consistent this season. The Canes finished a disappointing 11th this year, but coach Mark Hammett has largely stuck by his squad with just four fresh faces, and hardly earth-shattering signings in Mark Abbott, Marty Banks, Cardiff Vaega and Hadleigh Parkes. I believe this is a mistake on Hammett’s part, in not updating or adapting I feel Hammett has condemned the Hurricanes to another lackluster season. I’d be surprised if they manage to even get as high as 11th next season.
I’ll be very interested to see how the Auckland Blues fare next season though. On paper this is a team that could seriously make an impact on the 2014 series. The trouble is Auckland never really seems to gel as a team. Even with the inspiration of coach Sir John Kirwan. They certainly have the talent, with Jerome Kaino coming back to active duty, alongside Luke Braid, Piri Weepu (who is certainly still a player to be followed) and the recently signed Ma’a Nonu. Further they have one of my favourite players in Steven Luatua, who more than proved his worth during the Rugby Championship series while Liam Messam recovered from injury. If this team could actually all pull in the same direction I’d suggest they could not only shake up the 2014 series, they could win the whole thing.
A lot of eyes will also be on league convert Benji Marshall in his first Super Rugby season. Having seen what Sonny Bill Williams did with his ‘conversion’ to the Chiefs a couple of years back, and seeing what Israel Folau can do with the Wallabies, it’s safe to say League players can easily step across to the 15 a side code. The question will be is Benji fast enough and flexible enough to adapt to his new team after so many years with Wests Tigers?
Of course the major focus at the moment is the All Blacks end of year tour, but looking forward I’m going to make a few predictions now:
– Aaron Cruden will replace Dan carter as starting number 10 for the All Blacks after dominating the kicking statistic for 2014 with the Chiefs
– The Hurricanes will disappear into total obscurity
– Auckland, Waikato and Canterbury will make the finals
– Waikato will go back to back, winning the 2014 series, defeating Auckland in the final
– Zac Guilford will probably get drunk again
– Mark Hammett will be fired at the end of the 2014 season.
Oh, and for the North Americans:
The New Zealand Maori All Blacks are playing Canada on Sunday 3 November at BMO field, 1pm Kick Off. They then travel to Philadelphia to take on the USA Eagles, November 9. Both games will have coverage on TSN and Fox Sport Plus, check your local listings.
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