All eyes on fired-up Tikoirotuma
Manawatu fans at Mangatainoka tomorrow should closely watch their wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma because he has been going gang-busters for the Chiefs.
Tikoirotuma was exhausted from the last Chiefs' campaign and when he didn't blow out a candle for the Manawatu Turbos, he was let go four games from the end of the season.
But he will be back starting for the Chiefs against the Hurricanes tomorrow.
"He has been going sensationally," said Chiefs coach Dave Rennie last night. "He was one of the best on the field against the Reds [in Queensland last weekend].
"In his first full year of pro footie he played a lot more than I thought he would, and he was mentally and physically drained."
All four Manawatu men will be starting tomorrow.
First-five Aaron Cruden, who has just announced his engagement to Grace King, has been back with the Chiefs for two weeks and was solid against the Reds.
Rennie has been working out how to replace Sonny Bill Williams who last year was so lethal running off Cruden, had mulled over using Richard Kahui but will have Bundee Ah Kee and Tim Nanai-Williams there tomorrow.
"Sonny gave us go-forward fast ball and that's what we need to get from these other boys."
Manawatu lock Mike FitzGerald is one of the fastest Chiefs forwards and will start alongside Craig Clarke tomorrow.
"He is one of the quickest players in the team over 10 metres, believe it or not and he came back in great nick," Rennie said.
After a massive 2012 for All Black Brodie Retallick, Rennie said he won't expect him to carry that workload again.
An infected knee two weeks ago prevented the other Manawatu man, Nick Crosswell, from playing against the Highlanders. But he got 40 minutes against the Reds and will also start tomorrow on the blindside flank. Chiefs out injured are: Kahui, Robbie Robinson, Andrew Horrell and Brendon Leonard.
A few years back, no-one would have envisaged a disused ground at Mangatainoka becoming an annual sellout for the Hurricanes.
Even Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett acknowledges the match, with a lot of help from the Tui people, has turned into one of the most cherished games for the Hurricanes.
"No doubt, it is quite special," he said. "It is more for the crowd, the fans and the sponsors. For us, we've got a serious job to do.
"With the crowd so close to the ground it is very good for the players."
He will be more focused on seeing how players like No 8 Brad Shields come through after his long injury layoff.
A year ago Hammett purged the subversives and faced an anxious year.
It was a relatively successful season, but as Hammett, the realist, pointed out, "we finished one spot higher than the previous year and didn't make the playoffs".
So there is some anxiety about meeting last year's champions, the Chiefs, tomorrow, but more to keep the fans on side this season.
"It doesn't hurt to have anxiety, for a different reason. It can very quickly turn on us in terms of the respect we gained last year."
The match-up with the Chiefs was perfect for Hammett to see whether his men have the tools for the season proper.
The Hurricanes have won both pre-season games, just. They have scored 12 tries, might stretch what has been a resolute Chiefs' defence, but have leaked 11.