Former Hurricanes fans rediscover love for team

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 23/01/2013
Hurricanes
Phil Ried/ FAIRFAX NZ
READY FOR 2013: TJ Perenara is ready to pass the ball at Hurricanes preseason training in Newtown.

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Disgruntled season members are trickling back to Wellington rugby ahead of the Hurricanes Super Rugby campaign - albeit slowly.

A year after the union revealed it had shed 1500 of its most loyal ticket holders, chief executive James Te Puni has the first concrete evidence of a change of heart.

That's because of those who have bought a season pass for the  coming season, many are people who tore up their tickets in disgust at the end of 2011.

''I can't give a final number, but what we can say is that compared to the same time out from kickoff we are ahead of last year,'' Te Puni said yesterday.

''And I can also tell you in terms of the people who have signed up, 20 per cent are new members ... and between half and two-thirds of that 20 per cent are returning members from previous years.''

Te Puni wouldn't reveal exact numbers, saying there were still three weeks of sales before the Hurricanes' first match at Westpac Stadium, against the Blues on February 23.

However, The Dominion Post understands there were just over 3000 season members at the start of last year.

There were 4300 at the start of the 2011 before 1500 were shed in the aftermath of new coach Mark Hammett's decision to eject star player Ma'a Nonu and then-captain Andrew Hore.

A strong public backlash against Hammett has since turned full circle. Last year's energetic side restored warm feelings in the hearts of most fans, if not a place in the playoffs under Conrad Smith's captaincy.

''We're not talking huge numbers, but the indications are people are buying season tickets at a greater rate than last year,'' Te Puni said.

''We have over a month to go before a ball is kicked in anger and that's always a big month, so we will wait and see on the numbers ... We have new people signing up, which is good.''Te Puni said platinum memberships,  (there are understood to be 1200 available) were close to being sold out.

Meanwhile, he said the franchise's new ownership structure, which includes the consortium of Wellington business men known as Welnix, was going well.

Asked if he expected a request for the Hurricanes to change their playing style, Te Puni offered only a wry smile.

However, he did note that of the franchise's owners Wellington rugby had a  50 per cent stake and the Welnix just 12.5 per cent.

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- The Dominion Post

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