There hasn't been much to cheer about with North Harbour in recent years.
But the fact that the TAB have installed them, along with Manawatu, as the joint favourites to win the championship, and also being tipped in Sunday News' NPC preview last week to gain promotion, shows that times might be a-changing.
They kick off the new season today playing Waikato in Albany and first-five Michael Hobbs admits he's shocked that Harbour have been rated so highly.
'It is a bit surprising considering the results that Harbour have had over the last couple of years,' said Hobbs, who is set to start his first season with the province.
'But people are recognising that there is some young talent here and the making of a good side if we can put all of the little pieces together.
'We won't read too much into it, we know that as a team we haven't achieved anything in 2012 and we're just looking forward to playing Waikato, and hopefully starting out with a really good performance.'
Having Hobbs at first-five and Francis Saili outside him gives Harbour a nice mix. Hobbs has the strong kicking game and good ability to read the action, while Saili showed when he was given a run in the last few games of the season for the Blues that he's a future superstar.
Hobbs will be tasked with unleashing Saili into holes in opposition defences and he appreciates how talented he is.
'In those last couple of Super Rugby games where he got his opportunity he played really well and he's been sharp in the pre- season games,' Hobbs said. 'He brings a lot to the table in terms of being a ball player, a strong runner and a good kicker. So I'm very happy that he's lining up in our colours.'
Hobbs admits it has been a struggle to do much homework on what Waikato will bring to the game today, but they are expecting it to be a full-on physical contest.
'There is a bit of the unknown about them,' he said. 'We have watched some of their pre-season games and we've tried to get a gauge on what they'll be like.
'But we're expecting a typical hard-nosed Waikato team to turn up and one looking to bring that physicality to us. I'm sure the Chiefs' success has flowed on and there is a good feeling in the region and deservedly so.'
Former Blues assistant coach Liam Barry is in his second year with Harbour and Hobbs said he has put a big emphasis on getting the environment right for this season's campaign.
'He has been talking about the culture we want, the type of rugby player he wants here, and he has made quite a few changes from the squad that was here last year,' Hobbs said.
'He has talked about work and that's been a big thing, when we're here it's a work day, it's not about getting through our training and then go home.
'We are here to work, we start at 9am and we're finishing at 6pm today.
'That's good and it's starting to rub off, we're spending a lot of time with each other, and hopefully that will show with a good performance at the weekend.'
- © Fairfax NZ News