The Chiefs have already contracted 26 of their 32-man squad for the 2015 Super Rugby season.
Now it is a case of mostly taking in the national provincial premiership and championship and the form of players there, while possibly negotiating with overseas-based former squad members before finalising most of the remaining slots.
That includes a watching brief on two of this year's squad who have come back from medical issues that plagued or wiped out their 2014 seasons and who have so far not been re-contracted.
Fullback/wing Robbie Robinson missed the entire Super Rugby season this year with a hip injury that at one stage threatened to end his rugby-playing career before surgery proved successful.
Once he regains fitness he will play for North Harbour in the championship, while centre Robbie Fruean, whose appearances for the Chiefs were limited by his heart surgery to fix an accelerated heartbeat, is playing for Hawke's Bay in the same competition.
Depending on the makeup and size of the Chiefs' wider training group, which they tend to meld with the official squad into one wider squad, it would appear at this stage they have room still for at least one outside back, one midfield back, two loose forwards, one lock and one prop.
This year they went for an 18/14 forwards/backs split but again the size and makeup of the wider training group will dictate how the split for next year's squad is done.
Already the Chiefs have signed three halfbacks to the main squad, compared to two in the main squad and one in the wider training group this year, so that may affect the overall number of backs contracted.
The Chiefs have again pushed for the size of the New Zealand franchise wider training groups to be increased from five to six or seven.
The other unknown factor at this stage is the plans of former Chief Richard Kahui, who is starting the second season of his two-year contract with Toshiba in Japan.
That finishes in early February and Kahui has been rumoured to be keen to return here to try to get back into the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup squad.
Another ex-Chief, winger Lelia Masaga, will complete his two-year contract with Honda in Japan at the same time as Kahui and has also been linked to his old franchise.
In the forwards another overseas-based former Chief who could be in the running for a return to the team is 2012 loosehead prop Sona Taumalolo, who has been provided with an out from his club contract when Perpignan were relegated from the French Top 14.
The word is the Chiefs are not averse to the idea of taking their hunt for tight forwards offshore, although they would have to seek special dispensation from New Zealand Rugby if they were to sign any non-qualified foreign national outside of the Pacific Islands and Argentina.
There is room for a couple of loose forwards still in the Chiefs' squad with the departure overseas of Tanerau Latimer and Kane Thompson, while Nick Crosswell has not been re-signed.
One possibility might be former All Black George Whitelock, a former Canterbury captain who is unwanted by the Crusaders and on a short-term Japanese contract for this year.
HOW THEY LINE UP
Players contracted to the Chiefs for 2015 season:
Tom Marshall, Hosea Gear, James Lowe, Tim Nanai-Williams.
Midfield backs: Sonny Bill Williams, Charlie Ngatai, Andrew Horrell.
First five-eighths: Aaron Cruden, Damian McKenzie.
Halfbacks: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Augustine Pulu, Brad Weber.
Loose forwards: Liam Messam, Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Tevita Koloamatangi.
Locks: Brodie Retallick, Mike Fitzgerald, Matt Symons.
Props: Ben Afeaki, Ben Tameifuna, Pauliasi Manu, Jamie Mackintosh.
Hookers: Quentin MacDonald, Nathan Harris, Rhys Marshall.
- Waikato Times
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