Times are changing for the champion Chiefs

EVAN PEGDEN
Last updated 05:00 19/10/2012
WKT STD
MARK TAYLOR/Fairfax NZ
RISKY: It’s unclear where Jackson Willison will play his Super Rugby next season.

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The Chiefs look set to go into the 2013 Super Rugby season without eight of this year's squad and with hopes the Blues don't snap up a ninth.

Head coach Dave Rennie will take a list of 28 contracted players protected from being poached by other Kiwi franchises into the annual draft meeting at the end of the month.

That leaves room for just three or four additions at that meeting, which has become such a formality in the age of franchise contracting that it was conducted via teleconference last year.

Four players are definitely out of the running, having either left to take up overseas contracts or, in the case of Taranaki prop Shane Cleaver, ruled out by medical problems. Another four have not, so far, been offered new contracts.

The biggest question mark, however, surrounds midfield back Jackson Willison, who was earlier this year re-signed for a further two seasons, but more recently was delisted by the Chiefs when they contracted in-form Counties-Manukau second five-eighth Bundee Aki.

The delisting is thought to be tactical in order to protect Aki from being recruited by other teams by including him in the 28 at the expense of Willison.

With the Chiefs still keen to have Willison's services it seems they took the calculated risk, after looking around at the player stocks of the other franchises, to delist him with the aim of getting him back in the draft.

However, the Blues, who were not previously interested, will now be seeking another midfield back following the unexpected departure of Ma'a Nonu to the Highlanders. They may look to the young talent of this year's Auckland ITM Cup squad and the likes of young centre Malakai Fekitoa, or they may now be suddenly keen on Waikato's more experienced Willison.

As for the rest of the squad, definitely gone are second-five Sonny Bill Williams and No 8/lock Kane Thompson to Japan, plus loosehead prop Sona Taumalolo to France in addition to Cleaver, who is understood to have ruled himself out of being able to play in next year's Super Rugby competition.

At this stage it looks like there is no room for young wingers Maritino Nemani and Declan O'Donnell, along with loose forwards Alex Bradley and Scott Waldrom, who were all in this year's squad but saw limited game time and whose contracts ended at the conclusion of the 2012 season.

New signings for next year include midfield backs Charlie Ngatai and Aki, first-five Gareth Anscombe, halfback August Pulu, loose forward Nick Crosswell and prop Josh Hohneck.

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Aki, Pulu and Hohneck were promoted from this year's Chiefs wider training group.

The Chiefs look to have room for another midfield/outside back, sixth loose forward, fifth prop and, if they go for the maximum 32 players, third hooker. It is understood one of the hookers the Chiefs have spoken to is the Crusaders' Tasman rake Quentin MacDonald.

- Waikato Times

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