Welcome to the first entry in a new column for Last Word on Sports – Hurricane Watch. Every week I will be bringing you news, reviews, previews and commentary about the 2014 Super Rugby season, focusing on the Wellington Hurricanes. This season, Last Word will have a whole new level of access, thanks to the Wellington Rugby Union. So without further ado, let the Hurricane commence:
The preseason kicks off this weekend in Masterton with the Hurricanes facing off against the Auckland Blues. While the team lists have yet to be released, much has been made of the off-season manoeuvres by Auckland. Season 2014 has seen the Blues securing the services of ex-NRL star Benji Marshall, as well as Ma’a Nonu. The question is, just what sort of impact will this have in real terms?
Marshall is good – damn good. Nonu of course brings his wealth of All Blacks experience. Both also have the benefit of having John Kirwan AND Graeme Henry as their coaching staff. The Hurricanes conversely haven’t set the world alight with off-season signings, but this isn’t to say they are a weakened side. When you have names like Beauden Barrett, Corey Jane, Conrad Smith and Julian Savea in your team, you’re hardly struggling.
This season will be an opportunity for the rugby world to see if Marshall has the ability to match the media that surrounded his signing. Prior to departing his NRL team, the Sydney-based Wests Tigers, Marshall was on the receiving end of a fair degree of vitriol from some disgruntled fans. Marshall does seem to have found a niche in the Blues however, and if the team can gel, the Blues could be a real contender to step up this season.
The Hurricanes on the other hand have everything to play for. A disappointing 2013 season saw them finish 11th on the table (ironically behind the Blues). Again, they have the talent, they have the ability. The issue appears to be in converting that into points on the field.
To succeed in their assault of the 2014 Super Rugby title, the Hurricanes are going to need to focus on keeping the ball in hand, and using their players to their best potential. If Corey Jane can find space on the wing, if Savea can get into a gap, if Barrett can maintain his form, there is potential for a lot of naysayers to be well and truly put in their place.
The next few weeks will be a good opportunity for the Hurricanes to find that fit on the field. The Blues will test them, that is certain. Hammett’s boys can not afford to make a misstep this weekend. Can the Hurricanes beat Auckland though? It’s a big task, and they’ve got some monster players to go through. I do however believe the Blues, even with their big marquee signings, can be beaten. The consistency of players, the consistency of management, and the consistency of team bonds will, I believe, provide a stronger, more unified Wellington squad this year. If the team can pull together, and utilise the wealth of experience they have, this could be a very interesting season indeed.
Keep up to date with Hurricane Watch for detailed post match breakdowns, news and updates from the eye of the Hurricanes world.